Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The other Hemmingway

For the recent nursing students retreat I was researching some of the stories of missionary nurses. And I came across the story of Isobel Hemmingway, the cousin of Ernest Hemmingway, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1954. Having been brought up in China by missionary parents, she completed her nursing training in America and then returned to a small hospital in interior China. She was there during the Second World War when the Japanese invaded China. Most of the hospitals run by missionaries were closed b the Japanese and the patients thrown into the street. The expatriates were kept under house arrest, sometimes without food or water and were sustained by loyal Chinese workers of the hospital who would smuggle in food. Finally, Isobel and few of the other missionaries were exchanged by the Japanese government for some Japanese diplomats and she returned to the United States. Shorty after the war ended she was back, this time attached to the United Nations. She was placed in charge of 3 obstetric wards and stayed on for 20 years. During this time, she started a nurses training programme in association with the government of China and the United Nations. She also wrote a manual of nursing which was translated by the UN into many languages. After 20 years, she was offered the opportunity to return to America, but she chose to go to Turkey instead, where she served in a village hospital for another 20 years. She finally returned to America to take care of her infirm and aged mother.

While Isobel was working in the vineyards of God's Kingdom, her cousin was conquering the literary world. I shall not expand on all his achievements, but suffice to say, that his writing was one of the defining literary experiences of the 1950s and his influence persists to this day. Personally however, his life was a roller coaster and he finally committed suicide in 1961, 7 years after winning the ultimate accolade this world has to offer, the Nobel Prize. Isobel meanwhile, spent her later years in a community where she was well-known for her love, knitting and amazing stories that would keep the children enthralled for hours.

As we consider the lives of those 2 cousins, it is a no-brainer to choose which one I would prefer to be, given the choice. The daily gossip columns, contemporary and ancient history and even the Bible document oh-so-similar examples of the consequences of right and wrong choices. And yet, when it comes down to the wire, when we need to make our own choices in our daily life, how difficult it seems, how tempting is the path to fame, glory and worldly approval. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak....


  1. Wonderful meditations - keep it up. We thank God that your lives are a living out of what you are expressing in words! Our prayers are with you Amy and Arpit! For the Kingdom - and the Restoration!

  2. Arpit that is a powerful story and thank you for sharing it. It is often the small daily choices, like how we spend our time or if we can forgive someone instead of being bitter or do a loving thing instead of ignoring someone that build up to moving in the right direction. You are so right after a life of serving others, what does onle look for but peace and love, people to tell stories to and grandchildren to knit for.