Inspiration Can Be Anywhere

Inspiration Can Be Anywhere

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Inspiration Can Be Anywhere

No one in Hannah Moore’s family encouraged her to go to medical school. Her mother was a kind, loving woman, but she spent most of her time changing diapers, cooking and cleaning the two-bedroom New York City apartment where she was raising Hannah and her three siblings. Hannah’s father loved her, too, but his way of showing it was by joking and telling stories about the days when he was in the circus, although everyone knew that he never had been. He worked for the city, fixing signs when they were vandalized or run over by reckless drivers. Not an educated man himself, Hannah’s father thought that his kids would grow up, finish high school and find jobs as laborers, just as he had done.

Hannah didn’t resent her father’s lack of higher education or her mother’s life as a homemaker. But she told her mother that she wanted to become a physician. Her mom said, “Honey, you know that we don’t have the money to send you to medical school. You need a more practical goal like becoming a teacher or a nurse.”

To twelve-year-old Hannah, this made no sense at all. She knew that if she went to college, her parents couldn’t lend a dime to the endeavor regardless of what she chose to do. She didn’t say that to her mom, though. She also didn’t say, “C’mon, Mom, this is the 1970s. Women can do whatever they want to do, and I want to be a doctor.” Hannah simply withdrew and kept her dream inside. She never mentioned it to her mother again.

She did mention it to her father, though. Two years later, as they walked home alone from the ice-cream parlor where he’d regaled her with stories about his triple somersault between flying trapezes, she said, “I’m going to go to medical school to become a doctor, Daddy.”

He chuckled. “You don’t want to do that, Tiger. You know my cousin, Ronnie, the nurse’s assistant in Brooklyn?”

“Yeah . . .”

“Well, she complains about working in the hospital all the time. Every time I talk to her, she tells me about how the doctors ain’t got no respect for the nurses and how awful it is to see drunks in the emergency room. Why don’t you become an animal doctor instead? I bet animals ain’t so hard to deal with.”

An animal doctor? Hannah thought. Well, I do like animals . . . but I want to be a medical missionary and help sick children in India. She was just about to say this as she and her dad entered their apartment building, but he was already going up the steps four at a time, telling her that he used to climb the steps to the trapeze the same way. She sighed. Maybe her parents were right. Maybe medical school was an impossible dream for her or anyone in her family.

No, neither of Hannah’s parents encouraged her to go to medical school. But someone did. Dr. Hannah Moore likes to tell the story about that person to her favorite patients, especially those who are just about to go off to college and those who ask her about becoming a doctor.

Mrs. Haverill was a peculiar lady. At least that’s how Mrs. Moore and the other neighborhood mothers described her. All day she sang near the open window facing the street, crooning love songs to her parrot. The women frowned as they heard Mrs. Haverill’s voice singing off-key. But it wasn’t like the heavy metal music that the young couple on the first floor played, so how could they complain? As for Hannah, she liked Mrs. Haverill’s singing. In fact, it somehow drew her to Mrs. Haverill’s door. What else was in the apartment with her? Would she let Hannah see that beautiful red and blue bird up close? Curious and compelled, Hannah thought of a reason to introduce herself.

She climbed the stairs to Mrs. Haverill’s landing and bravely knocked on the door. A heavyset woman about fifty years old, with her jet-black hair pulled into a bun on her head, answered the door. Her bright purple eye shadow and scarlet lipstick would have looked ridiculous on Hannah’s mother, but on this woman it seemed fitting.

“Mrs. Haverill,” Hannah began, “I’ve noticed that you have a hard time getting up and down the stairs on icy days. Would you like me to go to the grocery store for you sometimes?”

“Oh, dear child, that would be wonderful!”

Hannah’s neighbor invited her in for hot chocolate after the first trip to the store. Her apartment was just as peculiar as she was, full of vines, potted trees and even more birds than the one she always sang to at the window. Hannah was fourteen at the time, and this strange place became a welcome respite from her own apartment, the kind of place every teenager needs. As she sipped the hot chocolate and looked at a cockatiel on a perch, she said, “My dad thinks that I should become a vet.”

“Ah, yes, an animal doctor,” Mrs. Haverill said in her singsong voice. “And what do you think?”

“I want to be a doctor for kids in India and work with Mother Teresa.”

“Ah, yes, a medical missionary!” exclaimed the woman, with even more enthusiasm. “A medical missionary indeed. Ah, yes, I hardly know you, dear child, but I can see that in you. I have a cousin who was a doctor in Africa during the 1960s. Now she runs a mobile doctor’s office on the streets of the city. Ah, yes, Hannah, can you stay a while for me to tell you about her?”

That afternoon began a friendship with many visits during which a fifty-something woman told true stories to a fourteen-year-old who longed to hear them. Hannah had been raised on storytelling, but this time it was different. This time the stories were true. Hannah almost fell out of her seat when Mrs. Haverill began by saying, “Now, when we were growing up together in the Bronx, Shirley and I dreamed of running away with the circus as many children do. When she first told me that she was going to be a doctor, I thought it was just another silly dream. We were from the poorest family on the street. All of our neighbors owned the surrounding stores, but we had nothing but a few threadbare clothes. . . .”

She showed Hannah photos of her cousin donning the black graduation gown of a new doctor, as well as snapshots of her cousin in Africa. When she knew that Hannah was sincerely interested, she introduced her to Shirley, who took her to lunch at an uptown diner one afternoon in March.

When Hannah recalls the appointment with the quiet woman about whom she had learned so much, she remembers feeling unusually excited and finally encouraged. “My mom says it costs too much to go to medical school,” she said to Shirley.

The woman’s voice was so soft that it was hard to believe she was Mrs. Haverill’s cousin. “Are your grades good?”

“All As,” Hannah answered.

“Then if it’s meant to be, you’ll find a way.”

Hannah Moore, M.D., received a full scholarship to Columbia. She remembers a sunny graduation day in May as one of the happiest days of her life. She recalls her first day of travel in India with similar joy. Only the births of her children were more exciting.

She returned from India with her husband just before her first child was born. “We’ll all go back again when they are older,” she says. Now she enjoys working as an infectious-disease specialist in a city hospital, watching her kids grow and letting them get to know their grandparents— as well as Mrs. Haverill, who still sings to her parrot near an open street-front window and offers hope when it’s needed.

Cerie L. Couture

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