Today I told the story I teach that both haunts and refreshes me. In Andre Dubus’ short story, The Doctor, we read the tale of a doctor who comes upon a boy who has fallen off a stone bridge into a shallow creek.
As he falls, a stone slab from the bridge’s guardrail falls on top of the boy and pins him down under just a few inches of water.
The doctor runs to him to try and lift the stone, but he cannot. He races up to the house beside the bridge and seeks the help of a woman who calls the fire department. It eventually takes four firemen, the doctor, and the woman to lift the stone.
But it’s too late. The boys drowns in only a few inches of water.
The doctor can’t believe what has happened. Only later does he remember that by the house sat a garden hose. He cuts a few inches off the hose and holds it to his mouth. He can breathe through it. Had he offered it to the drowning boy, he would have lived.
I teach the story because it’s about asking the wrong question and misinterpreting our circumstances. The boy’s problem wasn’t the stone slab; his problem was that he couldn’t breathe. The best question wasn’t, “How can I get the weight off of this boy?” The right question was, “How can this boy breathe?”
We look at our lives, and we ask the wrong question. Instead of working so hard to get out from under our circumstances, our first question should be, “How can I connect with Jesus here? How can I breathe in what I need of His power and presence, even if this weight of suffering remains?”
Our circumstances aren’t the ultimate problem. It’s that we need Jesus here.
Here’s the full text of the original story published in 1969: http://nchumanities.org/sites/default/files/c-%20Dubus-The%20Doctor.pdf