Tell us about a time you made a false assumption about a person or a place — how did they prove you wrong?
“Introduce yourself to your fellow classmates by saying your name. You can tell each other where you’re from – but do not tell anyone what you do. We’ll save that for the last day of class,” began Lisa, the teacher for the two weekend-reflexology course I had signed up for. The goal of such exercise, she added, was so that we would see everyone else on the same level. None of this, oh, she’s a nurse and I’m just a housewife thing…so she must be better than me.
Andrew sat across from me in the big circle. Checkered shirt, cargo pants, and flip-flops. A thick mop of wavy hair and wire-rimmed glasses framed a gentle face. At first glance, he reminded me of a massage therapist, like me. He seemed easygoing, with hardly a care in the world, and he had a gentle demeanor. Definitely a massage therapist, I thought. You know, the kind who’d probably talk about chakras and energy and universal love.
When the class broke for lunch, he came over and asked if he could join my friends and I wherever we were going as he wasn’t from L.A. During those two weekends, he was my partner, and I was set with the idea that he really was a massage therapist. He knew about trigger points, referred pain, anatomy, kinesiology (I had to throw these things at him because I was dying to be right, that he was a massage therapist) – and even aromatherapy and homeopathy.
He also had amazing listening skills. Massage therapist! my mind screamed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t last two weekends in trying to see if I was right about my assumption. We do have Google and I pride myself with quite decent investigative skills. And what I discovered about Andrew surprised me. But like the cat that swallowed the canary, I kept my discovery to myself, waiting what everyone else thought of my new friend.
“You’re an engineer!” One classmate chimed in when it was his turn to stand up and have everyone guess what he was, or rather, what label the public preferred to have everyone boxed into.
“No, you’re a computer programmer!” Said another
“No, no, no! He’s a massage therapist!” Said someone else. “He’s wearing flip-flops!”
“He’s a nurse!” Chimed the last one. “He’s got to be a nurse. He knows anatomy too well.”
Then Lisa looked at me. “What about you? What do you think Andrew does for a living?”
“He’s a doctor,” I said and everyone then looked at the young man with the checkered shirt and flip-flops – the young man who looked nothing like a doctor. At least, not a city doctor that most of us in the classroom assumed one would look like.
And Andrew certainly was a doctor, though he broke every belief I had inside my head about how doctors were supposed to look like, act like and be like. When I visited his clinic out of state, it was in a converted house (he’s since moved into his very own commercial building) where he ran a cash-only practice, the first I’d ever heard of after being in a world of health insurance and co-pays for so long. He advocated alternative medicine like acupuncture, reiki, massage and reflexology. Even homeopathy and aromatherapy.
It was like he had taken the label of M.D. and turned it right-side up after being upside down for so long. He brought it back to the way it probably had been before big corporations began dictating how the world of medicine should be run. He took back the label and made it his own, practicing medicine on his own terms.
And in doing so, he taught me never to judge a book by its cover.