Saturday, April 12, 2008

Everyone has his Lambaréné


There are certain iconic moments in life that serve to motivate people. I am not talking about traumatic events like Pearl Harbor, JFK's assassination, or 9/11, although these are unforgettable and can lead people to take particular paths in life. No, I am talking about the power of an image or series of images.

In October 1947, Life magazine published a photo essay about Dr. Albert Schweitzer and his medical mission in Lambaréné, Gabon. It was entitled "The greatest man in the world." I have not been able to find a copy, but it most certainly included pictures like the one here. It has a bit of a Mona Lisa quality, crossed with a Pieta -- He is looking directly into the camera with an expression that is engagingly kind and direct but simultaneously deep in thought and focused well beyond the camera.

The pictures and the story in the magazine, I have learned, served as an inspiration for many young people of that era to devote themselves to service. The most famous is that of William Larimer Mellon, who left a wealthy life style to go to medical school and establish a hospital in Haiti. Schweitzer would say, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it's the only thing." Certainly that was the case with those of the generation who saw that edition of Life Magazine. I am guessing that the pictures in that magazine were imprinted in their minds.

Yesterday, I attended my first meeting as a board member of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, which is devoted to reducing disparities in health and health care by developing "leaders in service" -- individuals who are dedicated and skilled in helping underserved communities, and whose example influences and inspires others. ASF supports 175 fellows a year from schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing, optometry, and pharmacy, who pledge themselves to devote 200 hours to community based organizations like clinic, senior centers, schools, and shelters. The program works in 11 cities in the US and is considering expansion to others. There is an cadre of 1785 "fellows for life" who are alumni of the program.

Please contact the Fellowship if you are interested in becoming a fellow, or if you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause. If you are on Facebook, you can find it listed as a cause.

5 comments:

Bernie said...

Was he not a concert organist. How about s plug for the arts. By trhe way I was in hospital for a while. How about a radio channel on the TV thing. Better than sleeping pills.

e-Patient Dave said...

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. This morning I watched my recorded copy of ABC's Randy Pausch program from Thursday, and it underscored this again ... the people (sick and not) who've been moved to alter their attitude by seeing his. People get real freedom from his example.

But I'm puzzled by your headline. Do you really mean *everyone* has a Labaréné?

Paul Levy said...

The headline is a quote from Dr. Schweitzer.

Yes, I think he meant that everyone has (or could have) a service imperative sometime in their life.

Anonymous said...

And finding your own Lambarene is a wonderful thing!

As a current Fellow this year, I would encourage anyone considering applying to go for it: you will be transformed, humbled, and inspired by the experience. It is a joy to be among people who put idealism to work in such diverse and creative ways.

And to anyone thinking about supporting the Fellowship: you couldn’t find a more worthy organization.

Thank you, Mr. Levy, for joining the board -- we are very fortunate to have you!

(And one small correction: Fellows complete a 200-hour service project over the course of the year.)

Paul Levy said...

Thanks, fixed.