Mennonite Health JournalArticles on the intersection of faith and health
Life, Love, Llamas, and Laughs: My Story by Arthur J. Kennel, MD
Book Review by Deb Bergen
from Mennonite Health Journal, Volume 14, No. 3, October 2012
Reviewed by Deborah R. Bergen, MD
At Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship’s Retreat 2012, a number of members had publications of their memoirs for sale. Although Dr. Art Kennel was not able to travel to Pennsylvania for the event, his wife, Lois, did attend and brought along copies of her husband’s book. MHJ is grateful to Deb Bergen, a physician in North Newton, Kansas for this review.
We often simplify our daily choices by setting up categories: professional activities and relationships vs. personal life, job vs. leisure, inherited nature vs. shaping environmental nurture, health vs. illness, expressions of faith vs. “the rest of life,” event reports vs. “there’s this story…”, etc.
In his autobiography, Arthur Kennel recognizes these patterns of thought but also deliberately challenges them. He could hardly have written otherwise; there is no other way to represent life overflowing with action and reflection. He conveys the tone of an encouraging mountain guide, pointing out both the details of flowers along the trail as well as wide views from which the patterns of decades can be seen. His range of involvements also means that this is a multilingual book, fluent in terms of faith, medical specialties, geography and the development of North American llama and alpaca farming. Few are as comfortable in all these different languages, but – ever the teacher – Dr. Kennel gently guides us from the familiar to new perspectives. In keeping with the title, telling a joke is as important in this journey as the facts of research or family events.
Stories of a large extended family and the hills that they called home are like stepping stones across the wide river of Pennsylvania Mennonite history. The limited pool of given and family names in the genealogy left this reader sometimes confused about generations and relationships, but not with any great loss in the story, and others may recognize delightful insights that overlap with their own histories. From here we move into adventures of post-war relief work, places of education, and new relationships.
A pause for an overview from childhood into the 21st century allows us to see the patterns of “faith matters.” Maturing faith inhabits the whole of life: we get stories from obtaining a cat skeleton to adjusting to a foreign mission setting to coping with his daughter’s severe accident and receiving his own diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
Subsequent chapters share stories related to medical practice in the Southern Highlands (North Carolina and Virginia), Africa, and the Mayo Clinic. Those less familiar with medical references will still enjoy stories of work with patients, as well as relevant observations on local and global politics, cultural interactions, and other unexpected opportunities.
Finally, we get to llamas. Dr. Kennel’s perspectives from rural living, respect for adaptations in other cultures, and experience in organizing research placed him in a unique position to shape this industry as it spread across the national consciousness. The details of establishing functional organizations and good practices will be useful for those interested in the history of this successful transplantation of llamas to North America. Amidst charts and figures, we also get to know – and fall in love with – individual four-legged companions.
The closing chapters ensure that earlier themes of family and leisure are brought up to date. Losses encountered in aging are held firmly within the goals of the journey – celebrating life, love, laughter (and llamas). The generous way in which this account is offered will be appreciated by a variety of readers, encouraging personal reflection on the journeys that we each undertake. Thank you, Dr. Kennel.
This book can be ordered directly from Masthof Press.
About the author
Deborah R. (Deb) Bergen, MD, is a physician in North Newton, Kansas.