January 9th found me tossing about very uncomfortably, trying to relieve abdominal cramps that had started the night before. In the last decade of living overseas, having stomach problems from food or water or whatever has not been uncommon, so I assumed this time I would get better after a day or two. By that evening however, my temperature had risen and my face turned red. The acute pain in my right side suggested appendicitis.
It’s one thing to be healthy in a foreign country and an entirely different situation when one’s life is completely in the hands of someone who doesn’t speak English. Okay, I speak some Turkish, but when you are doubled up in pain, you do well to say “help” in your own language. Of course, a moan basically means the same thing in any language.
I guess I made my point pretty well, because a few hours later I woke up and learned that they had successfully removed the sickly member of my body. And we discovered that the word “aaahhhh” and a smile also mean the same thing in different languages.
Just before the surgery, an aide came to my room to shave my abdomen. A job like his in Turkey would pay maybe $350 a month. With all the anti-Americanism going around these days, he could have acted cool to this “rich” American patient. But instead, because I lay before him completely helpless and dependent on him and his people, any defenses he might have had came down. Not only did he try to be friendly, but, he asked me to sign my autograph for his 14-year-old son. So there I was in pain, minutes before surgery, signing my name. It was strange, but obviously brought the man delight.
Emergency surgeries are never fun, but I learned something interesting through the ordeal. To really get to know people and win their confidence, I must first become completely vulnerable and let them share with me the good things they have to offer. Somehow, incarnational friendship would be a useful way to describe this style of crossing boundaries and enriching relationships. I suppose a good fence makes a good neighbor, but too many fences make too few friends.