Sunday, 1 October 2017

On Integrity

The spectacle of President Donald Trump endeavouring to belittle the mayor of San Juan, about aid to Puerto Rico after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria prompts me to a rather personal reflection about the breadth of people's attitudes. The argument over aid is a squalid one and it betokens a squalid outlook by the dominant opponent.

Many years ago I formed a close friendship with a man who was 30 years older than myself, whom I shall refer to by his title and first name, Don Rocco. He was a retired medical doctor, of considerable stature in his profession. During his career he founded a clinic for the treatment of tuberculosis and established a hospital in an area that at the time lacked the most basic medical amenities. Don Rocco was a modest man in everything except his concern for the safety and well-being of his people. I came to know him because he lived in a region that suffered badly from natural hazards and he was keen to encourage researchers to come and study there, and to provide some answers to the problem of disasters.

Don Rocco was a man of remarkable integrity. Others enriched themselves and gained status out of their work with the poor and needy, or their efforts against hazards: he did not. He would always listen to people's concerns and, wherever he could, he would try to help. Not all those around him were as admirable. He and I got on well and we would take daily walks and tell each other our secrets. On one occasion, I met him coming out of the hospital he had founded decades earlier. His expression was grim and I asked him what was up. He replied, "I feel like a father who has just learned that his daughter is a prostitute." I did not ask him what he had learned that day in the hospital but I did what I could to revive his spirits. As others succumbed to base instincts, his stature simply grew. People from places near and far admired and respected him. The more squalid the behaviour of others became, the more Don Rocco was admired. He won a presidential gold medal, but in his study the only item he showed off was a facsimile of the Magna Carta, which was for better or worse the symbol of his faith in democracy.

Don Rocco lived on into his nineties and was finally buried in the small cemetery of his home town, on the hill, at the bend in the road, overlooking the valley where once, a thousand years ago, the Saracens passed by on their way towards conquest. When he died, the hospital and the clinic were named after him. Outside the latter, there is a fairly lifelike statue of him, the man of faith and integrity, the man who always set an example but without showing the slightest pretence or ostentation. Don Rocco will live on in my heart until I too cease to exist. In the meantime, I must confess that it is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that there is now a public monument to my close friend. Such is the human condition.