By John Morton ’11
This past week, Xaverian was pleased to have Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder visit the school. Kidder studied at Harvard University and went on to the Iowa Writing Convention where he had the intention of being a fictional writer. However, he soon became inspired to focus on the lives of real people and events. Mountains Beyond Mountains is an excellent example of this powerful work. Incoming freshman to the Human Geography course at Xaverian read this inspiring book that became Xaverian’s first community read. Students and family members were encouraged to read it with their sons.
Mountains Beyond Mountains is the gritty story about the endeavors of Dr. Paul Farmer who ardently attempts to bring healing into the lives of people suffering with tuberculosis and AIDS in Haiti. Farmer’s passion for healing led him to be one of the principal figures in establishing Partners in Health (PIH) PIH is a collection of health care specialists seeking to treat people suffering with TB. Framer’s work and legend soon spread to Peru and Russia. Kidder captures Farmer’s story of perseverance and dedication to what he feels is simply “his duty”.
Tracy Kidder answered questions in an informal gathering with a small group of Xaverian students who were interested in writing. In this session, he described how successful Partners in Health has been by saying that 16 hospitals have been built in Haiti as a result of their efforts. Kidder also described his experience working with Farmer.
According to Kidder, Farmer hated the business side of his profession; preferring to work with his patients. Kidder joked that Farmer seemed to know everything. He reminisced about a book of rare diseases and picked one that he thought he could stump Farmer. But Farmer was able to tell him everything about this disease and even went more in depth than the book!
Turning to a more serious note, Kidder felt that his experience in Haiti was certainly an awareness rising moment. He said it was not like he would sell everything he owned but he grew to have a better appreciation of his place in the world. Similar to how he described Farmer’s work, Kidder said that, “We are all human and have a responsibility to help each other.”
Kidder also provided information about aspiring writers when he said that his favorite authors were William Shakespeare and Herman Melville. He also stressed about the importance of rewriting, rewriting and rewriting again in journalism. Kidder went through five drafts of Mountains Beyond Mountains until he got it right.
They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Kidder supported this theory with powerful imagery during his slide show. His presentation showed before and after pictures of some of the poorest Haitian citizens that Farmer and Partners in Health had treated. One picture showed a Haitian local who looked almost skeletal in the before picture. He had suffered severely from both AIDS and TB. After Partners in Health treated him, he was shown as healthy, strong man holding his daughter. It was certainly a poignant moment for those present in audience of over 400.
Kidder said one of his intents writing the book was to make us realize that we could all be a little like a Paul Farmer with whatever career we decide to pursue. This message was certainly aimed at the Xaverian students present. Above all, Kidder wanted to make Paul Farmer a prominent but real figure for all of his readers. He wanted us to experience the same awareness and sense of awe he experienced when he first met Farmer. One of the most admirable quotes occurred near the end of Mountains Beyond Mountains when Farmer said to Kidder, “That’s when I feel most alive, when I’m helping people.”