How can I help?
I heard Dr. Max Goodwin speak those four simple words for a final time earlier this week.
For non-viewers of the television series New Amsterdam, Max was the medical director of a fictional public hospital in New York City. When Max arrived, New Amsterdam Hospital was struggling with its finances, with a lack of shared vision, and with how to serve the population for which it was created—people on the margins without access to health care.
Over five seasons, the goal of leading the hospital to become the best it could be drove Max—even if it meant he needed to break the existing system to help create something new. At the heart of what Max tried to do were four simple words: "How can I help?"
Sometimes Max crossed boundaries or made missteps as he attempted to respond to the answers he received, but he never stopped asking the question.
During the series finale—which was titled "How Can I Help?"—viewers learned that Max first heard those four simple words as a five-year old sitting in a hospital hallway while his sister was dying in a nearby bed. A nurse kneeled down to young Max and asked him that question.
Those four simple words set Max on the path to becoming a doctor. They became the north star that would guide him through life.
As I reflected about why Max and his four simple words captured my attention and imagination over the past five years, three things came to mind.
When Max asked those four simple words, it never seemed like a throw-away question. Max wasn't asking, "How are you doing," as he sped on his way to a meeting. He stopped, looked at the person, and then listened. By asking the question, Max committed himself to a connection with other people and their needs.
When Max asked the question, he offered what he could provide—his help. He didn't say, "Let me fix everything" or "Let me be in control" or "Let me be the hero." Instead, he offered to join in partnership with others to move toward a better future.
When Max asked those four simple words, it reflected his authentic self and how he hoped to live in the world. By asking that question, he put his deepest belief into practice.
How can I help may not be our north star, but I hope each of us will take time to identify what is. What deep belief or sense of call is at our core? How might we allow that belief or call to guide how we live and engage with others? How might we put that belief or call into practice day in and out?
I will miss welcoming Max Goodwin into my home on Tuesday nights, but his four simple words will continue to inspire me to find ways to mend broken systems, to listen deeply to the needs of others. and to enter into partnerships that may lead to a better future.
Associate Executive Minister