My niece has a friend, a scientist, and I suggested she show him my blog. She said, “I don’t think so. Not just yet.” She tried to be kind. “Your blog is…not very scientific.” My niece thought it might be better to introduce him to me slowly, so he doesn’t run away. I think this is wise, but not because of science.
One of the wonderful things about photography is that it has many points of entry. If science is your thing, you can enter there. Or if you’re into soul or feeling or memories, you can enter that way also. You can do each thing or all of them together. In my case, I take pictures the way I cook. I actually do know things, scientific things, despite what certain people think, but I lead with what I like. I taste the soup. Does it need little more salt, a little more depth of field?
I’ve been thinking about this all week, how science and feeling, technology and insight work together, especially in the context of what’s been going on…my brother’s open-heart surgery. I asked my husband about it. I said, “How would you want a surgeon to feel when he was touching your heart?” He said, I would want him to be detached and objective. I would not want him to be all dreamy with reverence for my human life. I would want him to do his job.” So there you are.
But this same surgeon, this knowledge guy, this procedures guy, this science guy, was in my brother’s room when my mother called. He answered the phone by laughing and saying, “Nick Bochain’s administrative assistant!” And he had obviously taken the time to learn about my brother. “You are going to have your operation and have a normal life. That’s why we do it. It’s just like your father. He had this same operation and then he lived another thirty years.”
He didn’t have to say that. I mean, it wasn’t rocket science to get to know my brother and our family and our families’ history and to use that to address my brother’s concerns. But what a concept, especially today, when doctors often have less time with a patient than the guy in Bangalore has when he talks to you about your phone bill. The doctor had to make a decision to do this. All of the people who worked with my brother had to make the same decision. And they did. They knew him. I found that extraordinary. It made all the difference in the world.
Hartford Hospital has a wonderful reputation for cardiac care. They didn’t cut corners on their professional standards in order to be kind to my brother. They accomplished all things, not just the doctors, but the nurses, the nurse practitioners, and the other specialists and the people who brought dinner, as well as the people in the gift shop. They did it with such seamlessness that I have to believe that someone is setting the tone for this, that this is how they function, that they do this all the time. The way things are, I think this might take as much skillful intention as the surgery.
I think when you know something, when you’ve known it for a while, it sort of gets into your system. Then you can really do something, because you can use your knowledge as a whole person. That’s the way a microbiologist can know her microbes; a doctor, her patients; a physicist, her theories; a photographer, her pictures; a mother, her child; a cook, her soup. You can fit things together. You can wake up in the morning with a new idea. You can say, “The numbers looked good, but something told me to run another test”. You can make a giant leap to a totally new and totally true surprise. You could possibly save someone’s life, or change the way someone sees the world or give hope or comfort to a person or to a whole family.
You might like to know that my brother got a clean bill on his heart less than six months ago. His EKG was good. Now I’ll tell you something I really didn’t know. An EKG will look perfect if all your arteries are equally blocked, as they were in my brother’s case. (70 – 80% across the board. He had six bypasses.) I can easily imagine a scenario where my brother might have said, “The test said my heart was fine. It must be indigestion.” I can easily imagine saying that myself. The point is that true numbers lie, true science fails, if detached from human purpose and complexity and history and context.
Goro Yoshida travelled from Japan to Germany in the early 1930’s. Germany was widely acknowledged at that time as having the world’s finest precision machinery industry and the resulting new cameras, the Leica II and Contax I, were the best 35 mm focal-plane shutter cameras that had ever come to market. Yoshida-san decided that instead of buying a German camera for what would have been six month’s salary, he could make one himself, and beyond that, he decided there was enough technical skill in Japan to produce more cameras. He used technology that was then being broadly applied in the military buildup before the war. Do you know what he named his first camera, at that critical moment, at that turning point in Japan? Kwanon, after the Buddhist goddess of compassion. Kwanon or Kannon observes the cries of the world; she can’t rest while there is suffering. Her compassion helps bring peace into the world.
After the war, Kannon became Canon and that became the company. I like to think that Yoshida-san was expressing a courageous point, or at least a hope for a life-giving use of technology. I know that the thousand reaching arms of Kannon have now become the many million eyes of photographers, who continue to observe and record the myriad beauties and sufferings in the world. Technology and compassion together. Paying close attention. Keeping eyes open. Showing people what is happening. Showing them so their hearts and minds can know and respond. Good science.
PS. My brother is doing well. My sincere thanks to all who sent or felt good wishes. I send you gratitude and happiness. Thank you, science. Thank you, people with knowledge, skill, compassion and laughter. Thank you for your good minds and hearts and words and hands. Thank you, Hartford Hospital.