© James Huber - all rights reserved.

The Physician and the Priest

High in the mountains there was a small, hidden valley. In this valley there was a small village. The village was isolated, so the villagers lacked many modern conveniences and observed many strange customs.

Early one spring a Physician arrived from the lowlands. At first the villagers were wary. The Physician was a woman, and the village Priest had given them very particular ideas about what kinds of work were woman's work. Being a Physician wasn't on his list.

With modern medicine and methods, the Physician was able to help many people not helped by the villagers' simple folk ways. In only a few weeks she was able to convince the villagers to accept her.

One day the Physician was sitting in the village green eating her lunch. She took out a big red apple and started to eat it. Seeing what she was doing, the Priest rushed up to her. He shook his finger at her and said, "That's no way for a lady to eat an apple!"

"And what's wrong with the way I'm eating this apple?" asked the Physician.

"A decent woman would pierce the apple with three iron nails, and leave it sit over night before eating the apple," fumed the Priest.

"Eat an apple with nails in it? That doesn't seem like a very good idea to me. Why would I want to do that?" asked the Physician.

"You take the nails out before you eat the apple," said the Priest. "And you do it because you are a daughter of Eve. Eve tempted Adam with an apple, thus inflicting original sin on mankind. Christ died for these sins, hung on a cross with three iron nails."

The Physician rolled her eyes "You people with your silly superstitions!"

The Priest stalked off in a huff. The physician continued eating her apples without first nailing them.

Many women of the village noticed that the Physician ate her apples without nailing them. Since the nails gave the apples a funny taste, many of the village women also stopped nailing their apples.

After a few months, the women who stopped nailing their apples became pale, and complained of having no energy. The Priest declared that this was a punishment from God, because they were no longer nailing their apples. The Physician scoffed at this idea, saying "These women are simply anemic. Your diets here are low in iron. Nailing the apples must have transferred some iron to the apple itself. All your women have to do is start taking an iron supplement, and they'll be fine." Some of the village women went back to nailing their apples. Others started taking an iron supplement. The women of both groups quickly regained their color and energy.

During the spring and summer, the Physician hiked in the mountains around the village. As autumn came, and the first snows starting falling, the walks became impractical. The only entertainment left in the village was a dance held every Friday night in the town hall. This was fine with the Physician, because she enjoyed the music and lively dancing.

One Friday, not long after the first snows of winter, the Physician arrived at the town hall and found it quiet. The people gathered, but there was no music or dancing, and the people were quiet. "What's going on?" the Physician asked. "Where's the party?"

The Priest answered "It is the feast of Saint Foobar, patron saint of our village. From this day until Easter Sunday we must abstain from music, singing, dancing, and other frivolity; or face the wrath of God."

"More superstitious nonsense, I see," said the Physician. "Come on, let's dance!" The Physician was able to persuade only a few people to defy the tradition and dance. Next Friday, a few more joined in, and one of the musicians played. The Friday after that, all but one member of the band was playing, and the majority of the villagers were dancing.

The Priest interrupted the festivities. "This is sacrilege! You mark my words, you'll regret this. Those of you who still have faith should abandon this den of sin, and join me in the church to pray quietly."

Some of the villagers went to the church with the Priest. Some stayed in the town hall with the Physician. For several weeks the Physician and her people spent Friday nights dancing and the Priest and his people spent Friday night praying.

Then one Friday night, during a particularly raucous stomp-dance, there came a low rumble. The rumbling turned to a roar. The singing and dancing had triggered an enormous avalanche. The town hall was destroyed. Many villagers were trapped in the wreckage.

The Priest and his followers rushed to scene of the disaster. They were able to save all of the villagers, although some were quite badly injured. When they reached the Physician, she glared up at the Priest "You...you bastard! Why didn't you...tell us we would...cause an avalanche?" she asked the Priest.

"I didn't know you would, I just knew that tradition forbade the dancing and singing at this time of year. I warned you, no one can escape the hand of God," said the Priest.

Just before she passed-out, the Physician scoffed "This wasn't...the hand of God...just a n-n-natural d-d-disaster." She was right, but the town hall was still flattened, and many people were still seriously injured.

Winter turned into spring. The villagers met to decide what to do about the destroyed town hall. After some debate, they decided to rebuild. As they discussed where to get the materials, the Physician spoke:,"My cousin owns a sawmill. He also owes me a favor. We could log the forest behind the church, and use that wood to rebuild the town hall."

"Sacrilege!" screamed the Priest. "Those woods are the birthplace of Saint Foobar himself! Great evil will befall us if we desecrate them.!"

"Rubbish!" retorted the Physician. "You can't seriously believe all this nonsense about sacred woods?"

"Nonsense, is it? Would that be nonsense like the iron in the apples, or nonsense like the avalanche that almost killed you?" asked the Priest.

"Those things had perfectly logical, scientific explanations," replied the Physician.

"Logical, scientific explanations that you failed to think of until after the fact; an oversight that has caused the very problem we are now trying to correct," the Priest reminded her.

The Physician started to object. The suggestion that she pay attention to superstition seemed to go against everything she believed in as a woman of science. Then she thought of the rusty apples. They did work, even if the villagers didn't know why. She thought of the avalanche. It was triggered by their singing and dancing. If she had taken the Priest more seriously, if she had tried to understand the reason behind the superstition, she might have avoided the disaster. She took a deep breath, and spoke. "Priest, perhaps you're right. Perhaps there is a reason why those woods were made sacred. Would you be willing to let me examine your records? If so, I might be able to find the reason."

The Priest started to object. The suggestion that there was a mundane reason for the sacred seemed to go against everything he believed as a man of God. Then he thought of the women who were taking mineral supplements instead of nailing apples. The apples had been adding iron to their diet. Maybe that was the real reason for the tradition, even if no one ever knew it. He thought of the avalanche. If he had been able to give the people more of a reason than "It's the way we've always done it" more of them might have listened to him. He took a deep breath, and spoke. "We'll look through the records together, and we'll see what we can find. If the records don't show us why, maybe we can find the answers ourselves."

The Physician nodded, and added: "And if we can't find a reason, we'll log the mountain... cautiously."

High in the mountains there is a small, hidden valley. In this valley there is small town. Physically isolated, modern communication technology keeps it in touch with the rest of the world. Even so, the town's people still remember traditions passed down through countless generations. When a new idea comes along, they don't dismiss it; but neither do they ignore the hard-won wisdom of their ancestors.