Appreciating Scattered Light.

 

Her crippling disorder and facial deformities dimmed in the light of her spirit, which shone brighter than anyone else’s in the room. Her careful and deliberate words reminded me of those spoken by Tibetan monks, and her wisdom about happiness and gratitude left me astounded. How could someone facing so many burdens find such lightness in her being?

She shared her willingness to embrace the human experience. She described the joy she feels when seeing crystal water pouring from a faucet. She openly welcomed us into her vulnerability, speaking about her depression and awareness of her mental incompetency – and yet, she was more aware of her state and condition than most of us are 90% of the time.   Her advice for us was the following:

Treat every patient as a prism. I may not bend light the same way as everyone else, but I still produce a beautiful rainbow.

 

During hard times, always remember there is something good around the corner. Have faith it is there. You just can’t see it.

 

Accept your challenges. The rest is easy.”

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$2.64

I have ordered 39 Venti Blonde Roast coffees from Starbucks since beginning medical school, but I have never noticed the exact price until now. $2.64. That is roughly $100 in warm, smooth coffee that I have purchased to awaken my sleepy brain and nudge me to keep memorizing and learning. I don’t spend money on snacks or getting a haircut or nice shampoo or the jacket I’ve had my eye on. But I fork over that $2.64 as my single indulgence.

I woke up knotted again. I didn’t go to anatomy lab and bailed out of volunteering at the opthamology clinic tonight. I just didn’t have the power in my veins for any extra effort today. So I trudged myself to school an hour before class and eyed the cozy red Starbucks corner of the hospital lobby. I gave in.

Sipping from my ridiculously overpriced coffee cup, I can’t imagine how many hurried customers slug down their even pricier lattes within minutes, without even appreciating it’s luxury. How many impoverished people across the world would feel so fortunate to be able to stroll into a cafe and non-nonchalantly purchase a $6 drink – the equivalent price of a meal?

So the bargain I have made with myself in splurging on my 39 caffeinated indulgences is this: to mindfully practice appreciation and gratitude each time. I take notice of everything about it: the perfect temperature, the smoothness, the nutty taste – with the faintest sweet after-tone that you’ll miss if you don’t consciously take notice.

Today, I realized 2 things about my Starbucks coffee:

This polyethylene plastic cup which will end up in a landfill due to it’s non-recyclable nature. My 39 cups will end up in the ground somewhere, filling up the dirt that used to be the home of plants and organisms.

Also, I also realized that I handed over something mindlessly, while there are people starving and working tirelessly to earn money to feed themselves and their families, or to provide a roof over their head.

“Learn to appreciate what you have before time makes you appreciate what you had.”

Steel Wire Cutter.

“Does it feel heavy or light?”

 

Life is nothing but a chain of decisions, both conscious and unconscious choices, leading you through a tangle of events. These subtle decisions carry you on until you find yourself startled by your surroundings, wondering how you could have possibly arrived in such discord in the first place.

 

At every fork in this knotted path, there is an instantaneous moment of verdict. We are blessed with an inner compass, guiding us through these unfamiliar, bewildering surroundings: our intuition. Our twisting intestines tell us which path will lead us into darker troubles, and which path will lead to growth and fulfillment.

 

One explicit decision influences every future opportunity on your path.

 

Is your decision closing doors ahead of you, or opening them? Are you spending your life loving the wrong person? Are you choosing happiness? For every decision you encounter throughout your life, answer it based off the question:

 

 

“Does it feel heavy or light?”

 

 

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Life At the Moment: Frosted Mountains and Blonde Roasts

I love everything about my life at the moment.

I love medical school. I could type that sentence a million more times. I love not only the school I go to, but everything about the field itself. The ever-changing evolution of it, the never-ending details that can be followed down rabbit holes for days, the simplicity of looking at a body and understanding the inner gears and levers that allow it to function.

I love where I live.

I love bursting with fulfillment and excitement and curiosity every morning.

I love meeting someone new every single day.

I love the exhausted feeling after a 12 hour day of studying as I sit back in my chair and gaze at my page full of notes, all transplanted and organized carefully inside my skull.

I love the endless possibility and brightness of my future.

I love this life.

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Pyromaniac.

Why do we need to learn about this in such detail?”

It was a valid question, voiced by an audacious 8th grader during our last session of the Anatomy program. We had been teaching about the heart when she halted the discussion, arguing that there was no use of this knowledge for them right now. “Sure, maybe we’ll need to know this if we want to be doctors or scientists one day, but we don’t need to know this right now.”

Her question stumped me. Why do we make anyone learn anything in the first place? Why must every 8th grader understand the sedimentary strata of the Earth’s crust and photosynthesis and what an arthropod is?

I have thought about this question so intensely because it has never crossed my mind before. Not once. I love to learn anything. I thrive when I am learning. My deeply rooted passion for it feels like a thirsty sponge wanting to soak up any information I can get my hands on. How does my heart beat inside my chest, and every other human’s chest on the planet for that matter? How did we all synchronously form into these complex creatures, starting from one single cell in a long tube near someone’s hip bone? How does oxygen get into my blood? How does a translucent noodle wind it’s way through the holes in my skull to innervate the muscle that lifts my eyelid?


I am in love with learning.

The problem is, I don’t see teachers instilling the same excitement about learning in children today.

Or,

is it instead something that cannot be taught, like a flame of passion and determination only lit within a select few?

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Your Seat in my Skull.

Ethical dilemmas. That’s what they called it.

Her eyes passed over us like a hawk scouring it’s prey as she crept up the lecture hall stairs, hunched over with her hands clasped behind her back. As every computer screen scrolled facebook or other lecture notes, her voice droned on, with questions about autonomy and morality followed by long silences. I was immersed in spinal reflex arcs when the lights dimmed and a video of her TEDTalk began to play. This caught my attention.

She spoke of “contemporary death”, or the idea of modern medicine sustaining lives that are filled with disease and dependance, in contrast to older times when disease and sickness killed swiftly. Then an old, fated photograph of her and her husband appeared on the screen, and she spoke about how he broke his neck in a bicycle accident and became a quadriplegic. Her voice broke as she pondered the question, “Did I do the right thing?” Warm, fat tears rolled down my cheeks. I ask myself that question nearly every day.

Students began to speak up to her questions, defending the patient’s life and confidently choosing to help the patient by doing everything they could to heal them. I could feel my blood boiling and my hands clenched the chair to keep myself from belting out, “SO THEN WHAT?” They live. And they are stuck in the corner of a nursing home FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE, wondering if the world forgot about them? Not being able to dress themselves or go see a movie or buy the candy bar they’ve been craving all day? That isn’t healing.

I know my dad doesn’t want to be alive. The question she verbalized was one I’ve never said out loud myself:

Did I do the right thing?”

Some days, I can forget. I become immersed in my studies, bury myself in books, fill my brain with concepts and figures and definitions. It is what I have always done – it is my coping mechanism. When I was younger, my parents would scream and fight and bones would break, and I would study even harder. School became my sanctuary.

Other days, his spirit sits in the back of my skull like a dull shadow. He clouds my vision, grabs my thoughts, and breaks my heart. It can be a voicemail or merely a classmate talking about camping with their dad. But today, all I could think about was the half-finished painting sitting in my living room, of the hospital room.

The question she should have addressed is,

Is existing equivalent to living?”