All art is self-expression and words are the original art form. We forget that in our daily humdrum of emails and text messages. But each written word is a form of expression – some more meaningful than others.
So when asked by Dr. Xiulu Ruan whether I would publish his writings, I reflexively responded in the affirmative. Here was a man I knew nothing about, but whose story affected me – and countless others – in ways we have yet to fully see.
We knew his story, but we didn’t know him. That didn’t sit right with me. Here was a man who accomplished more in a lifetime than most, whose identity was reduced to a single federal case, albeit one that rose to the Supreme Court, but a case nonetheless.
I knew there had to be more to him. And there was – much more. There was something quite familiar about him, particularly to me: the pain in his words. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t careful. But to the experienced eye, it’s clear as day.
I saw myself in his words. His pain became mine. Soon I couldn’t differentiate his words from mine. At that moment, I lost my doubts and found a long-sought validation. Those who write know how much doubt creeps into every written word. The play between thoughts and words is a dance between doubt and decision, uncertainty and clarity. That same dance, which I perform for every piece I write, appeared when I read Dr. Ruan’s letters. All I could do was smile.
For years I wrote about the injustices in the opioid epidemic, the flagrant misconduct by the DEA and federal prosecutors. For years I wrote in silence. It was maddening. There were times when I would beg people to listen to my story, to give it some modicum of legitimacy. But I usually found some patronizing contrition offered by those who felt some obligation to give it.
Until I read Dr. Ruan’s words. His story was akin to mine. His journey of shame mirrored mine. Most importantly, we had the same arguments. I couldn’t believe it. Dr. Ruan’s case appeared before the Supreme Court. His legal arguments must have been robust. There’s no way he could think the way I think, or write the things I write.
But, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. In this case, in the lines of the letters mailed to me from the federal prison where Dr. Ruan shamefully still calls home.
If there is any lesson we can learn from Dr. Ruan, it would be this: never stop fighting. Dr. Ruan is just like you and me, disenfranchised by a system unable or unwilling to acknowledge its own injustice. But he never stopped fighting. He wrote and wrote until his words could no longer be ignored.
In the land of milk and honey, where money and power count for everything, the one thing that can never be defeated is a person who keeps fighting.
Now he will forever be known as the physician who appeared before the Supreme Court and whose case will be referenced for years to come whenever a physician is unjustly targeted as a criminal for acting as a clinician. His words will ring through the annals of American legal history.