by Aida Haddad
I was on my knees sifting through beetroots as their leaves glistened with early morning dew and their emergent fruit waited to be picked. Beads of sweat were forming on my back, and hot, angry tears streamed down my face. It was unseasonably warm for October; I was incredibly sad in the wake of my grandfather’s death. I had been at the farm a few months now, spending my morning harvest time praying for the improvement of my grandfather’s health and my afternoons driving home to memories of our time together in Lebanon that past summer. I wondered if they were the last moments I would ever have with him - I had just started getting to know him as Dr. Fuad Haddad, neurosurgeon & humanitarian. “God, do you know what this will do to my grandma? And why are you taking away my hero?”
As I placed the beets in my basket and walked them to the store, I knew this anger was only the beginning of my grieving; I had read on this topic in practical theology courses during my time at seminary, and I had preached on the apostles’ reactions to Jesus’ death. The grieving process ran the gamut of emotions from denial to anger to depression to acceptance. Only after Jesus’ resurrection did they express hope. But Jeddo (“grandpa” in Arabic) was not coming back.
Before Jeddo died, I twice faced the choice to become a medical doctor: the choice to take up a legacy passed from Jeddo to my father, and from my father to me. During my undergraduate career, I had worked towards medical school, but junior year I became frustrated, believing medicine to be monolithic and not seeing my place within it. I instead pursued environmental advocacy and pastoral ministry, leading me to seminary. There, I befriended third-career seminarians; and, as they shared their stories, I noticed variations of a similar theme. These future pastors had spent multiple careers prior to seminary believing the pastorate excluded them from this vocation. They eventually realized their understanding of the pastorate had been too narrow, and I was confronted with the similar question of whether my earlier view of medicine was incomplete. I wondered: what if I needed to reassess my role in medicine like these seminarians did with their role in the pastorate? The answer to this question found me during my final year of seminary, beginning on that warm October morning.
After I dropped off the basket of beets in the store, I returned to the garden, angry that this morning was the beginning of a lifetime of mornings without Jeddo. That anger galvanized me to honor him through my grieving, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I would strive to continue honoring him through future work in the medical field. As morning dews became frosts, I continued to say goodbye to my jeddo, watching my beautiful beetroots wither as winter beckoned their rest. The following spring, when we prepared seed blocks in the greenhouse, I allowed some sentiment of new life to revive me through the cracks of my broken heart. Jeddo was never coming back as I knew him, but I could feel him in my increasing motivation to live into our family’s legacy in the medical field.
With this new momentum, I renewed my pursuit of medicine with my graduate thesis, in which I investigated the topics of addiction, autonomy, and the history of racialized U.S. drug legislation. By exploring the physiological, philosophical, and political roots of addiction, I dismantled my preconceived idea of what a medical career might look like. I realized I could be a healthcare provider as well as an advocate and counselor. And with this thesis in my toolbox, I graduated from seminary and finished my premedical coursework, eventually shadowing doctors in rural North Carolina and urban Ecuador. Both clinics continued to build my newfound understanding of my potential as a doctor. In rural North Carolina, I met migrant workers and poor whites, many uninsured, suffering from layered chronic conditions rooted in socioeconomic oppression. In urban Ecuador, I conversed with teen patients on their second or third pregnancies due to inaccessible healthcare fostered by a culture of machismo. These shadowing experiences were the final focusing events that have brought me here.
I began with a scientific mind for medicine in college, and during seminary I focused on reconciling aspects of Christian thought with my own moral philosophy. This wrestling strengthened my propensity towards social engagement in the clinical setting. In moving from grieving Jeddo’s death to remembering his life, I feel called to carry this type of engagement and its accompanying tensions into my own medical career as Jeddo did in war-torn Lebanon.
The Presbyterian academy taught me to investigate oppression and poor health outcomes in the US and abroad, but my grandfather’s life and death required me to create the foundation of Christian hope on which I stand: there is a season for everything - dew and frost, life and death, listening and implementing. With this, I will be the doctor who can readily transition from evidence-based medicine to bedside care and back, treating the whole patient, considering her social position, and ultimately becoming part of systemic change in medicine.
As a Christian environmentalist, joining the Fossil Free PCUSA witness to fossil fuel divestment is directly tied to this dream. I walk for our Biblical responsibility to engage science in mitigating climate change and I walk for my future patients who have been further marginalized in its wake. And as I walk, I’ll be praying with my feet.
Aida Haddad is an Indiana native, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and will pursue an M.D. this fall. She is participating in the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World.
you've found the blog for www.fossilfreepcusa.org