Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Divided Selves of Nova Scotia's Henrys ....

Thirty years ago, I started researching and writing about the divided mind (to use William James' famous term) of a man named Henry from Nova Scotia.

I still am.

my 1984 Henry Alline poster
But I started off writing and thinking about Henry Alline, a man from New England stock living in Falmouth Nova Scotia , who  very much considered himself a Christian.

Admittedly most see him professing a quite unorthodox variety of the Christian faith.

By contrast, for the last eight years I have been researching, writing and thinking (much, much thinking) about (Martin) Henry  Dawson.

(Martin) Henry Dawson
While this Henry had been raised in a very committed Presbyterian family in Truro Nova Scotia, (with one side of his family reflecting similar New England roots),  he always claimed in adulthood not to be a believer in the Christian God but rather in the new religion of Modern Science.

I believe, however, that while he had stopped believing in the existence of  Jesus, he still tried, perhaps unconsciously, to always practise the ethics of Jesus.

But he was constantly torn between his outer devotion to the stern tenets of Modern Science rationality and his warm compassionate inner nature.

He had joined-up during WWI,  but not in the first heady war-glory days of the summer of 1914, but rather like thousands of like minded people around the world, immediately after he had first heard of the execution of nurse Edith Cavell in October 1915.

Again, typically, he had first volunteered to join a medical unit.

But eventually he joined an infantry unit feeling he wasn't doing enough to end the suffering by merely being a hospital orderly.

He won a Military Cross with citation, for his bravery.  And for his altruism, in giving up his stretcher back to hospital to a man more seriously wounded. For twice he was seriously wounded in battle.

In 1939, these old wounds came back to haunt him.

Together with his now middle-agedness and the fact that he was married and main breadwinner for his wife and two (and eventually three) young children, it all made him an unattractive combat hospital recruit in WWII.

It hurt none the less not to go off to help. His job and home was now in New York City, but while America might still be neutral, he was anything but.

He was sure, with all his advanced medical research skills, he'd be warmly welcomed by the Canadian Army Medical Corps, but in fact he'd  just to end up safe behind a desk in Canada, dealing with medical paperwork in areas remotely connected to his current research efforts.

And if the German mistreatment (and Allied neglect) of Belgium  had fired his sense of outrage and compassion in WWI, in WWII  the equivalent of his poor bleeding Belgium had become poor bleeding Poland , torn apart by Russia and Germany while the Western Allies just said pious nothings.

Every time another small nation fell before the mighty and his adopted country America did nothing, Dawson's anguish only grew.

But what could he do, from a small lab deep in New York City, that would have a major and useful affect ?

I have written extensively on what he eventually did do.

Enough now to say that over the four years between October 1940 and April 1945 , he rebuked and finally reversed the Allies' early decision, at a muted level, to micmic the Nazis' decision to favour medical care for the powerful and the useful over providing basic medical care (like food) to the weak and 'not-so-useful' .

But I want to conclude this brief comparison by noting that for both Henrys, their moral crunch time came in war and that after they had found a moral solution to their divided selves, nothing but nothing would remove their inner calm.

Henry Alline did his most physically tiring work,  after he knew he was dying of TB, but his inner peace seemed to help him hold off this fatal disease until he had completed much of his ministry.

Similarly, Henry Dawson was told not long after he started his penicillin ministering that he had a very tiring and then-fatal disease (MG) and that, on average, people lived only four and half years after diagnosis.

Coincidentally, that is exactly as long as he survived, but he too had time enough on Earth to see success in his efforts.

I am writing this 'comparing and contrasting' sort of post,  after seeing two brief documentary films .
Paul Kimball Alline film

Both were made by Paul Kimball of Redstar Films about Henry Alline*.

I enjoyed them both, but I still think there is a drama movie that could be made of Henry Alline's brief but incident-packed life  that would appeal to even non-Christians.

Just as I see a movie eventually being made of Henry Dawson's similarly eventful last four years of life.....

* I know, I know.  Henry was always called Henry Allen when his name was spoken while he was alive, but today in this age of Googling, I always verbally refer to him as Henry A-lline , so that my listeners can quickly find him online.

1 comment:

  1. If one can make a successful fictional movie about the NO side in a referendum in Chile - why not ?