When I was a boy growing up, our family doctor was Dr. Lekisch. With heavy accent and heavy hand, Dr. Lekisch did not have a fine beside manner, though under it all you knew he had your best interest at heart. How Dr. Lekisch ended up in Midland, Texas, I’m not sure. However, I do know that he barely escaped Germany with the rise of the Nazi conservatism.
I was privileged to eat at the doctor’s table on occasion, because his son, Peter, was one of my best friends. In later years, Peter would be my law school roommate. I asked Dr. Lekisch once how he came to America, and he gave me some good advice. He said that sooner or later governments will fail you and that war and hate will always exist in the world. You may be fortunate and never experience these things; or, you may get caught up in the middle of them. Therefore, never become too attached to wealth or material goods. They can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. What cannot be taken from you is your brain, your knowledge. I came to America with my brain.
That story and those words of advice always stuck with me. They have served me well many times throughout my life. I had noticed that Dr. Lekisch had two framed letters in his office from Albert Schweitzer. I asked him about them. He told me that Schweitzer was a good friend. He had spent time as a doctor at Lambaréné, the equatorial African mission, working with Dr. Schweitzer. He told me that Schweitzer had impacted his life and philosophies and that they both had suffered at the hands of war. In the period from the autumn of 1917 to the summer of 1918, Schweitzer was interned at various camps in France, during which his health, normally so robust, steadily declined. He suffered dysentery, could find no relief despite assorted treatments, and also developed a cyst in his rectum that made it hard for him to sit.
Dr. Lekisch periodically told me stories of Schweitzer. Although Schweitzer came to know the struggle and pain of survival in an equatorial forest and the pain of life in a prison camp a generation before Dr. Lekisch, they both followed a similar path. They both discovered a reverence for life. They were both aware of the suffering among the poor and handicapped around the world. While Dr. Schweitzer was famous, for not only his medical service at Lambaréné but also as a philosopher, Dr. Lekisch never became famous. Nevertheless, he spent part of each year for many years hand running, going to other countries and ministering the poor and the sick and infirmed.
Dr. Lekisch never wrote philosophies like The Religious Philosophy of Kant (1899), The Mystery of the Kingdom of God (1901) or J. S. Bach le musician-Poéte (1905), as Dr. Schweitzer did. Nevertheless, he worked to broaden the view of fundamentalist conservatives in my little hometown of Midland, Texas. In the 1950s, he worked with a small group of others to establish the Unitarian Universalist Church of Midland, which sixty years later I am a member of.
Midland was not Lambaréné and Lekisch was not Schweitzer, but their goals were the same; their philosophies inseparable, and strangely, their appearance, personalities and heavy German accents quite similar. Both are gone now. One famous, the other forgotten. One honored even as he received the Nobel Peace Prize. The other, as far as I know, never received an honor. But they would both tell us that good works, serving the needs of fellow humans, is all the honor needed in life. It is self-serving. Those who are deprived are those who do not give of themselves.
Thank you Dr. Schweitzer for the good you brought into the world at large by your philosophies, service and example of what is good. Thank you Dr. Lekisch for taking time to talk with me when I was a boy, for your service to the poor and infirmed of the world, and yes, for being our family doctor.
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