A contemporary look at the spiritual journey of a doctor named Luke that thoughtfully brings the Gospel physician into our 21st-century world.
If you have no cause worth dying for, do you have a reason to live?
While sorting through family papers following his father’s massive stroke, Dr. Luke Tayspill, Yale Medical School’s top infectious disease specialist, stumbles across a manuscript written decades earlier by his beloved grandfather. The book bears an ominous title, The Deaths of Lukas Tayspill—not death, but deaths.
A closer inspection reveals that the book is about three characters with the same name. The first two Lucas Tayspills were 19th century Quakers who suffered martyrs’ deaths. The third story—set in the future—ends abruptly with the arrival of a Dr. Lucas Tayspill in a plague-ridden, war torn African land. Was his grandfather foretelling Luke’s own life story—and prophesying his death?
Luke sets out on a deeply personal journey to Sierra Leone. But his pilgrimage to understand death leads to a powerful and unexpected encounter with the essence of life. Will Luke fulfill his grandfather’s vision?
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.56(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Diane Komp is a physician and retired Yale medical professor who has written extensively about the spiritual side of health care. For twenty-five years she has studied and taught about St. Luke, the Bible’s “beloved physician.” Her previous books include A Window to Heaven: When Children See Life in Death.
Read an Excerpt
Jedus…say, “Come folla me!” Bot de man ansa um say, “Sah, fus leh me go an bury me papa.”
–LUKE 9:59, De Good Nyews Bout Jedus
Christ Wa Luke Write (Gullah)
It would be easier to bury my father, he thought, if he had already died.
Dr. Luke Tayspill hesitated at the door of his father’s study. The simple act of returning home had reduced a confident doctor to a hesitant child. He reached for Theo’s hand–an automatic gesture–but came up with air. That motion, intended as a spousal embrace, ended in a clenched fist. Inhale…exhale…inhale…exhale… Luke’s measured breaths failed to banish the thousand and one thou-shalt-nots that fixed him in place. He remained frozen on the threshold.
He had come to the room to find a dying man’s living will. As far as
Luke knew, his father had never signed such a document, but now, to withhold life support, the hospital wanted a clear indication of Martin
Tayspill’s wishes. Under most circumstances Luke would have considered such a request to be quite reasonable. When his own patients were dying,
he wanted clarity in such matters. However, standing at the door to his father’s study, the head of Yale’s AIDS Care Program wasn’t operating within the realm of reason. When he entered Martin Tayspill’s house,
Luke abdicated the role of eminent scientist and reassumed the posture of child.
In a hallway looking glass, he caught a glimpse of himself framed by late Victorian oak. He frowned at the younger specter of his father he saw reflected back. A few years earlier, when his facial hair began to show specks of silver, Luke had shaved off his mustache. He was thirty-four at the time, too young (in his opinion) to be sporting gray. Just that morning at the nursing home, he had noticed the milky arcs that dulled his father’s eyes. Luke hated the betrayal of age that allowed others to prejudge a man. How soon would medical students call him “the old man” behind his back? Most of his patients died too young, but standing in front of the mirror, Luke could think of nothing good to say about growing old.
Framed by a pair of diamond-paned windows, the desk that drew him to his father’s study loomed tall against the southeastern wall. Now as in his childhood, Luke felt as welcome in this room as the late-morning sun now flooding in through Belgian-lace curtains. Closing his eyes, he willed himself back to his fifth year of life, when the room and the Queen
Anne secretary desk with a thousand secrets had belonged to his grandfather. So had the sunshine.
Inside the room to the left of the door, a longcase clock struck eleven in Whittington chimes. The clock was the last piece of furniture
Grandpa Giles had crafted before his death. An easel with half-used tubes of paint stood in the far-right corner of the room, just as it had when
Luke was a little boy. Giles’s self-portrait, muttonchops camouflaging jowls, remained propped up on the easel, unfinished. These days, Luke thought, Grandpa only comes to me in my dreams.
Finally Luke found the courage to step into the room. Drawing close enough to the desk to caress its slanted lid, he allowed his fingers to trace the wounds in the wood that had banished him from this room more than thirty years before.
Three years after Giles’s death, Luke had yearned for the comfort of his grandfather’s lap. The boy came into the room and sat down on the
Chippendale chair. He studied the old familiar desk. Until Grandpa took sick, the two of them would come to the study together after breakfast.
Luke’s task had been to guess which cubbyhole hid that day’s special treat. The desk was rich with concealments, including drawers that only
Giles–its designer–could have located. Luke wondered if, before he died, his grandfather had hidden one last treasure for him to find.
He pulled down the desk lid and found a picture card secreted in a niche. Was it Grandpa’s final surprise? On one side he saw printed words.
On the reverse side a robed man knelt in a painted garden, his face looking as sorrowful as Luke felt that morning. The boy–who had never been in a church–could not explain why that religious picture appealed to him. Nor could he explain why he took a letter opener from a drawer and gouged three words into the folding top of the desk: Where are you?
Martin Tayspill’s eyes blazed the day he found the defacement. After
Giles’s death, the study and the desk had become his property. Luke’s father sanded and stained the desk surface but ignored the child’s lament carved in the wood. Martin banished the culprit from the room, but scars remained on the barrier that locked the picture in. Grandpa Giles was gone, shut away with Jesus so many years ago.
In vain Luke searched for his father’s living will. Then he yanked on a fixture on the bottom drawer. It resisted entry. He frowned, unable to remember his father or grandfather ever opening that drawer. The brass pull, he assumed, accented a false facade. Dropping to his knees, Luke ran his fingers around the rim and slipped a credit card between the drawer and the frame. He found an unexpected gap and continued to explore beneath the desk. A block of wood moved at his touch. As he rotated the knob, a lock gave way. “Sly one, Grandpa,” he whispered.
Nothing in the drawer belonged to Martin Tayspill–or to the present.
Luke found his grandfather’s Marine Corps commission and honorable discharge from the end of World War I. Some mice had left their calling cards on letters from Grandma Kate, addressed to Grandpa
Giles at Parris Island.
Luke had completed his search, but a mystery lingered. The drawer containing the mementos was not as deep as the one above it. Pulling it out as far as he could, he stretched his hand to reach the back of the drawer. As if released from a secret it longed to reveal, a panel folded forward, disclosing a second compartment.
The hiding place surrendered a faded packet the mice hadn’t reached.
Untying the butcher’s string that bound it, Luke slipped out a thick black-and-white composition book filled with his grandfather’s handwriting.
On the cover, in a more calligraphic style, Giles had written a title: The Deaths of Lucas Tayspill.
Not death, but deaths.
Reading Group Guide
Luke Tayspill, head of the AIDS Care Program at Yale Medical School, is struggling with the most important people in his life. His father, Martin, is fighting for life after multiple strokes. His mother, Edith, wanders from one platitude to another. His wife, Theodora, has never recovered from her experiences as a war correspondent in Bosnia. Two important characters, one old and one new intrude into Luke’s personal chaos. Bishop Paul Pinckney, an African American pastor who serves as chaplain to Yale’s AIDS team, challenges Luke to consider spiritual as well as medical diagnosis. Through an unpublished manuscript buried deep in a desk he had built, Luke’s deceased grandfather emerges from his dreams to a pivotal role in the doctor’s life. “If you have no cause worth dying for, do you really have a reason to live?” Luke reads in the forward to a family story. As Luke reads The Deaths of Lucas Tayspill, he wonders if his grandfather was prophesying his own death. Grandpa Giles’ novel ends with a single paragraph about the third and final Lucas Tayspill, a doctor born Giles wrote his book but in the same year Luke was born. When Luke has the opportunity to travel to Sierra Leone, he is at first repelled by the risk to his life. But his desire to find a reason to live draws him to the plague-ridden, war torn land. In this modern reliving of the story of the Bible’s Dr. St. Luke, Diane Komp asks her readers to consider the deepest meaning of their own lives.
1. Luke Tayspill is a prominent physician who serves his patients well by using his world-class brain. His father would approve. But would you, if you were his patient, want him to be your doctor before he acquires a “healer’s heart”?
2. Have you dealt with an elderly and obstinate family member whose health is declining? Is Luke’s father, Martin, like your family member or totally different? If you could sit down in Friends’ Care Center with Martin, what conversation would you have with him?
3. Do you empathize with Luke or give him a piece of your mind? Why?
4. How would you describe Luke’s spiritual journey?
5. Do you find Luke’s conversion believable? If not, how would you have written this part of the story?
6. Part of the story in The Healer’s Heart is about racial tension and reconciliation. Which parts of the story help you most with your own journey with folks who are very different from yourself?
7. Who’s your favorite character in the book?
8. Other than Luke, which character in The Healer’s Heart would you like to meet in a sequel?