To my knowledge, I was Dr. Grasse’s patient only once. On the day I was born, he was the one to catch me.
According to my memory, I was grandpa’s patient many times.
After all, a doctor teaches.
So I got lessons on nutrition, though probably not the same kind he taught his patients, as he handed me the turkey leg at Thanksgiving dinner, when I was still in a highchair and the piece of meat was about as big as my head. Or when he dipped my finger into the icing of my birthday cake, which I have no doubt I was eager to follow along with. Or when we stood at the stove, measuring out butter and sugar for peanut brittle.
I got lessons on anatomy at the yearly pig butchering, as we would all gather around the table where he was dissecting the heart and showing us the atriums and ventricles, veins and arteries.
I got lessons on operation – of machinery – as I sat on his lap on the tractor, clinging to the wheel, focused intently on steering toward the bale of hay that we were going to pick up and feed to the cows.
A doctor prescribes.
So I was prescribed books. Whether it was the Baby Blues comic book that I read through at least once every time we visited, or the children’s bible that he and grandma gave me for my birthday.
I was prescribed movies. From “The Wizard of Oz” to “Charlie Chaplin”, he would draw from his vast library in the basement, always seeming to have a particular one in mind, which he would find amongst the countless VHSs.
I was prescribed a jean jacket for each year of my life, graduating from small to slightly larger as I outgrew them one by one – though each stayed in the closet in case another tiny farmer came over to visit. Rubber boots too, from one size to the next, so that I was always equipped to tromp out to the cows or the chickens or the rabbits, garbage dish in one hand and a container for eggs in the other.
A doctor examines.
So I sat with him one evening in the pool of a hotel as he examined his life, prompted by my intermittent questioning. We examined his boyhood, his college years, his travels to Ethiopia and Nigeria, and his work here in Arkansas. I was amazed by the places he had been, the things he had accomplished, the lives he had impacted.
A doctors consults.
So I saw him, over the years, consulting a power much higher than his own. In his morning devotions with grandma, in his regular attendance to Calico Rock Mennonite, in his readiness to admit, whenever asked about his admirable life, that it was not with his own strength, but God’s, that he had come so far.
A few months ago, we sat with my grandparents at the kitchen table in grandpa and grandma’s apartment at Menno Haven. During a lull in conversation, my uncle absent-mindedly stroked his jaw. Grandpa, who had been silent during the conversation, suddenly looked up and said “does your jaw hurt?” We all chuckled and my uncle assured him that it was just a mindless habit, but it made me realize something.
“Doctor” is not a job. It is not a profession. It is not a way to make money. It is not something that you do during office hours and leave at the hospital when you come home. It is a calling, a way to live your entire life. Grandpa, Dr. Grasse, Meryl – whoever you knew him as, you knew him to be a doctor.
He spent his life teaching every kind of lesson, prescribing - from antibiotics to literature - , examining his own experiences and those of others, and consulting the Great Physician on how to best care for the people that he encountered at every moment in his life.
Now, as he finally rests, I can only be grateful that I had the fortune to be one of his many, many patients. And I can’t help but picture him standing next to some heavenly exam table, asking an angel “So tell me, how long has that wing been sore?”