April 8 marked the closing of the 2013-14 Babel series sponsored by Just Buffalo Literary Center. Physician and best-selling author Abraham Verghese delivered a lecture that struck the core of audience members. The lecture inspired youths and adults to continue their passion for writing, regardless of their career choice.
The night also bore new beginnings. Just Buffalo announced the speaker lineup for Babel’s 2014-15 season, including Colum McCann, singer-songwriter Patti Smith, David Henry Hwang and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The star-studded lineup invigorated the masses, and paved the way for the poignant lecture.
Verghese began with a forewarning, that his lecture would take up only 35 minutes, affirming that he would dedicate a large portion of his allotted time to answering audience questions. His opening struck a chord with younger viewers, as he discussed his struggle to find his role within his science-centric family, more specifically as a child exploring the vast world that is education. Verghese noted that his talk could be summed as “how a book brought me to medicine, and how medicine brought me to writing books.”
Verghese took the audience back in time. Members were brought to Ethiopia, where Indian parents were raising their children, and working in academia. Verghese discussed the focus that his parents put on science, and the pressures of being raised in a middle-class Indian household, drawing parallels between his upbringing, and that of a typical middle-class Jewish-American household. Verghese said he had three options while growing up: “being a lawyer, an engineer or a failure.” However, it was a book that evoked his love of helping people, which transformed into an interest in practicing medicine. W. Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” allowed a young Verghese to experience a “quiet epiphany,” fostering his interest in helping others through science.
Medicine, Verghese said, is a “romantic and passionate pursuit.” Through Verghese’s lecture it was evident that he had strong emotional connections to his work as a doctor. Verghese spoke of his trials and tribulations working with some of America’s first HIV/AIDS cases, saying it was an era of “excitement and fear.” His philosophy that medicine is all about patient care aligned with his original doctrine of helping people through science.
Verghese spoke most passionately about the cases of HIV/AIDS he treated in small-town, middle America. He discussed the wave of infected patients returning to their roots from the big cities, to pass in the comfort of their childhood homes. The illness, which caused utter devastation in the gay communities of urban centers, became the beginning, and the basis of Verghese’s scientific writing. One of his first published papers described the phenomena of people contracting HIV/AIDS and then making the pilgrimage back to their homes and families. However, this later transformed into Verghese’s introduction to creative writing. He closed by saying that he turned to the art of literature when he felt that scientific language could no longer capture the nature of the human experience that these people, along with himself, were feeling.
With this season’s closing, audience members were left excited for the four new authors that next season will bring.
Lillian Kahris is a junior at City Honors.
Abraham Verghese said he had three options while growing up: “being a lawyer, an engineer or a failure.”