Date Published: 14th April 2020
One of the most striking images of this time of crisis has been that of people coming to the doors of their houses to express their gratitude to doctors, nurses, care workers, and ambulance drivers – and all those working in the hospitals and clinics. This applause for the people who care for others has been heartfelt and poignant. These people have been putting their own health and lives at risk to help the sick. Now we have come to realise that all about us there are heroes.
This poem is about those people – medical staff of every description. We meet them first when we are born; they watch over us through the years. Suddenly they are needed more than ever before and we see that they have never left us – they are still there.
(You can see and hear Alexander reading this poem on the website of the London Sunday Times)
Those who care
None of us remembers that first meeting –
Tumbling out into a very different world,
Into your receiving hands;
Blinking at the light, we breathed
The strangeness of oxygen
Saw the unfamiliar walls
Of the delivery room,
And the first ceiling we had ever
Looked at and wondered what it was.
That was the first thing
You did for us: welcomed us,
Ushered us into infancy
And childhood, and the years beyond.
We never thanked you
But do so now, rather late,
But with all the feeling
Of the long overdue
Expression of gratitude,
The tardy repayment
Of an ancient debt.
Since then, from time to time,
You have picked us up,
Dusted us down, bandaged
The occasional consequence
Of our failure to look
Where we’re going
Or to behave quite as we might;
Tolerant, like all good
Members of your professions,
You said nothing, but did
What was necessary.
And sent us on our way,
Patched up and healed.
Now, quite suddenly, we call on you,
And the call is an urgent one,
You are there, of course, it never
Occurred to you that you would be
Anywhere else than at our side.
Hour after hour, day after day,
You are there, the support
Of those hands that first delivered us
Embracing us once again,
With the same love, the quiet
And gentle care; once again
We spell out our debt, our gratitude,
You say, “It’s what we do”
We nod and say, “We always knew.”
Alexander McCall Smith, April 2020