Little corners of the world

"The clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients." And, 7 other things worth your time.

Quote of the day

“The one thing that people are forgetting is that the real hero is the mother. She ran out in front of the guns, screaming ‘bambino, bambino, bambino!’ She faced the guns, I didn’t. I was holding them. But she was — like most mothers — they’re heroes.”

Martin Adler, 96, a World War II veteran who was recently reuinted with three Italian children (who are now in their late 70s and early 80s), with whom he posed in a photo in 1944. (Link to the whole story is below.)

Welcome to all of our new subscribers over the past few days. Thanks for signing up. I hope you enjoy Understandably, and that you’ll consider passing it along to others and encouraging them to subscribe, too.

Folks, it’s great to be back. I have a few experiments and changes to try, and a couple of big announcements later in the week.

  • If you missed it, here’s a link to the free ebook of inspirational quotes I said I was doing. (This downloads the .pdf version of the book from a Dropbox account.) I learned a lot from this, and have plans for more projects like this.

  • Oh, and I’ve been asked to write about neighborhoods where people are moving in Miami, Austin, and Dallas. Do you happen to live in one of those cities? Please reply to this newsletter if you’d like to share some insights.

    But for today, let’s just get right back into the swing of things…

The doctor and the debt

I’d like you to meet Dr. Omar Atiq. Born and raised in Peshawar, Pakistan, he went to medical school and did a fellowship in oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Then, he got a phone call that changed his life: a hospital in Pine Bluff, Arkansas wanted to offer him a job.

“This was pre-Google times,” Dr. Atiq told me with a laugh when we talked yesterday afternoon. “I had to look it up on a map.”

So, Dr. Atiq and his wife, Mehreen went down to check it out. People were friendly; it seemed like it might be an adventure to live in a small town for a while.

“It was fate,” Dr. Atiq continued. “We’re from Pine Bluff now. We’re from Arkansas now. I’ve lived here longer than I lived in Peshawar.”

Now, of course I’m not just telling you this story because Dr. Atiq and his wife found a nice little corner of the world to live, work and raise a family.

Instead, it’s because Dr. Atiq, 60, made headlines recently when he wound down his private medical practice before going to work full-time for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

In the process, he forgave hundreds of thousands of dollars that his patients still owed in outstanding medical bills.

I was drawn to this story, both because of the sheer generosity, but also because of what it says about how life is for a lot of people.

So I gave Dr. Atiq a call, and I caught him while he was out walking his dog, Yoshi — actually, his son’s Pomeranian Husky, who is staying with them for a while.

He said the debt forgiveness idea came about when he studied his accounts and realized that he had former patients who owed fairly small amounts of money in the grand scheme of things — but who were clearly struggling.

Some were making payments as low as $5 per month, trying to stay current.

“It tells you that they just can’t pay it off,” he said. “They made a good effort, but as you probably know, this is a rural state. The clinic was in the Delta, poorest of the poor. We have people that, if their job is gone, it’s gone. And that’s what’s happened.”

So, Dr. Atiq talked it over with his wife. The wound up sending cards containing the following note to 200 former patients, whose debt totaled $650,000—thus averaging a bit over $3,000 each—announcing they were wiping the slate clean.

“We were blessed, and we had the opportunity and recognized it,” he told me. “It’s funny. The printing company that was doing it for us said, it’s the holiday season, so maybe for another $65, we can make it a card for you.”

Now, we could have a legit discussion about how it would be nice if we had a society where people didn’t have to flirt with bankruptcy or scrounge for $5 a month in order to get life-saving medical care.

But, let’s focus on the positive and be grateful that we get to start the year with a story like this one. They say you can’t necessarily change the world, but you can often change your little corner of it.

For 200 families in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, thanks to this generous gesture, 2021 is looking better than 2020.

7 other things worth your time

  • This is a… well, it’s a transcript: President Trump calling the secretary of state for Georgia to try to get him to reverse the results of the election. The Washington Post version might be behind a paywall, so I’m also including a link to an NPR summary. I link, you decide. (The Washington Post, NPR)

  • Here’s the story I referenced in the quote to start the day. Back in 1944, an American soldier nearly shot three young kids by mistake who were hiding in a basket—except that their mother ran to their rescue. In his relief afterward, he posed for a picture with them, and kept it for more than 75 years. During the pandemic, as a way to cheer him up, his daughter began a quest to find the children. Short version: it worked. Also, video here (in Italian, though). (NYT, $; Facebook video)

  • I wish there was something more I could do for this kid, but let’s share his story: A 7-year-old boy was being taken care of by a foster family in Tennessee, when their house caught fire. He escaped—but then returned to the burning house, climbed through a window, and rescued his 2-year-old baby sister from her crib. “I was scared,” he said, “but I didn't want my sister to die.” (CNN)

  • The new Congress was sworn in Sunday, and Nancy Pelosi was reelected to a fourth term as Speaker of the House. Separately, both Pelosi’s and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s houses were vandalized—apparently by people upset that the last Congress didn’t approve $2,000 stimulus checks before adjourning. (NBC News, AP)

  • Flight attendants say they’re being worn thin by having to fight with passengers on almost every flight to get people to wear masks during the pandemic. Separately, for, I wrote about how United Airlines is saving $80,000: by getting rid of cocktail sticks. (The Washington Post,, probably both $, sorry)

  • A Massachusetts cop was called to arrest a family for shoplifting at a local supermarket. When he realized they were only trying to get food for Christmas dinner, he let them go with a warning—then bought them a $250 gift card to another supermarket. This feels like another one of these stories where we can bemoan the fact that people are living like this, but also admire the person who sets out to improve his little corner of the world. (BBC, even though it’s a Massachusetts story, just to find a source without a paywall)

  • There’s so much news since I was last writing this, but this is worth mentioning: the U.S. Defense Act that passed over the holidays included an interesting provision—an amendment that basically bans anonymous shell companies used by criminals and corrupt politicians. So, if you have one, sorry. (The Independent)

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