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Day 125: Paul Kalanithi

In Dreams, English Major, Friendship, God, Happiness, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, life, literature, loss, Love, Meaning, People, Relationships, Teaching, Writing on September 20, 2016 at 11:51 pm

The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

In reading Paul Kalanithi’s story there are two quotes that stood out to me. One is listed above. While Paul is recounting his perceived role as a neurosurgeon, I think the poignant thing about that quote, is that you can change the words, and, in doing so, you will see something very beautiful:

The individual’s duty is not to stave off pain or return others to the position before they felt pain, but to take others into our arms, those whose lives have been disinegrated, and work until they stand back up and face, and make sense, of their own existence.

While Paul was most certainly a beautiful doctor in his lifetime, what I found most touching about his book was his ability to see (through the lens of his profession) the meaning behind living. The part of life that drives and perpetuates us, if we’re lucky. The precious ability we have to connect with others and enrich their lives through the experiences we make with them.

I have degrees in English literature. Paul did too. I have spent years disconnected from books, from authors that once touched me so deeply I felt a definitive passion to share their words with others and, hopefully, contribute to the world by helping their ideas, failures and successes to live on. My life got in the way though, and I lost that passion, I quit reading, I quit writing and I chalked up the time spent in academia as a waste. What I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d learn from reading this book, a book about a neurosurgeon’s life, is that what I’d studied, and how I felt about it, and how I can still feel about it, is meaningful. You can bring that passion, that meaning, to other aspects of your life, just as Paul had done. He was a neurosurgeon, but he was also a lover of Dickenson poetry and Emerson’s Leaves of Grass and Eliot’s The Wasteland. He found a way to beautifully intertwine his passion for works and authors such as the above with his equal, but different, passion for medicine and the brain. In fact, I believe, the two were codependent in his life. He was such a great physician because he had read the words of the grieving, of the loving, those who struggled to understand their own mind, such as Hemingway, and thus with these literary experiences he was able to further understand the element of humanity that must be present for a great physician to exist. He understood, like he states above, that he wasn’t God, his role wasn’t to stave off death, but to show those patients he encountered, how to live, how to love, how to grieve, how to be supported, how to find meaning – all things he learned, and, eventually, put down into a book of his own. 

This idea leads to my second favorite quote of the book, when he and his wife Lucy discuss the idea of having a child after his cancer diagnosis:

Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

Life isn’t about avoiding suffering, it’s about fully living which includes suffering. When we read literature, some of the greatest works, or, on a personal note, some of the works that have touched me most, it’s been the books, the poems, the historical recounts of people that suffered, that experienced something that hurt them and then took the time to write about it. Those are the ones that make you see life differently, those are the ones that remind you what living is really about. This is a subtle reminder that hardship is beautiful and to avoid it would equate to a flat life. A life absent of deep seated meaning. 

Paul’s book is one that will leave you in tears, but in a good way. What struck me most about this book was, oddly enough, the cover of it (I am oftentimes drawn to book covers and their hidden messages). 

Paul was a leading neurosurgeon at Stanford University. He was up and coming and he was a “great” doctor. I thought of my own grandfather who passed away just last year. I remember visiting him in his hospital room before he had lost the ability to communicate. He was a surgeon, not a neurosurgeon, but he lived his life in the same professional circle as Paul. I remember distinctly looking at the white board in his room, the one where his name and conditions were listed alongside his current medications and their dosing, it read: “Dr.” with my grandfather’s first and last name following. Each time a nurse would enter the room, he’d emphatically remind him or her that he was indeed a doctor, a surgeon, and that they should refer to him that way. He’d go on to let them know the years he’d spent in the operating room as if it somehow mattered while he lay in bed dying. Perhaps it did, perhaps it brought him meaning, but what this story is meant to point out is what’s written on the front of Paul’s book, a memoir of his life, is just his name – no lofty Dr. title preceding it. Just Paul Kalanithi, that’s it. Surely, someone who spends years of their life training to be a physician, a neurosurgeon, didn’t leave that title off by mistake or as an oversight (my own grandfather taught me that). Perhaps though, Dr. is omitted because Paul saw himself as more than just that. In reading his book, I think it’s quite apparent he did. 

When there is no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

A whit.

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Day 108: My Golden State Warrior

In basketball, Children, Happiness, life, Mother, Parenting, Stories, Victory on March 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm
{photo via crystalgraphics.com}

{photo via crystalgraphics.com}

There was only a minute left on the clock, star player is down with an ankle injury, and my little e is sitting on the bench of his basketball playoff game. What unfolded next seemed like a scene from a disney channel movie. As I see the star player limp off the court, with a score of 22 to 22, I know it’s over. We’re down and now our main basket man is icing his ankle with almost no time left in the game, and just like that coach points to my e and the underdog jumps off the bench. It wasn’t until 40 seconds later that I realized fully what was happening–

Were under our net, we’ve got a weak dribbler and he’s passing my e the ball. My boy that has spent the entire game trying to block kids two feet taller and 30 pounds heavier. My e who hardly watches the ball because, what’s the point? The star player will never pass it to the hardly noticeable short kid in the corner, even though he’s shouting, “Im open.” My Golden State Warrior spent the entire basketball season begging a pass, and I spent every game warding off a sinking motherly heart.

BUT NOT TODAY. And that’s when I stood up. My boy had that ball and he was wide open for the perfect two-pointer, the two-pointer that could take his team to the championship game. It was the underdog and the net, and all he had to do was set it up just right, focus, and it was all his.

E’s not like the other boys who today, fueled with frustration, teared on the court. Balls slammed at refs fouls and travel calls–little e was just enjoying the game. Trying to soak in actually being on the court at all–having some play time.

And that’s why when he set up that shot, he was perfectly calm, a good shooter, finally given the chance. Looks , shoots, and swish, that ball went in without a touch of the rim. The stadium of hundreds stands up in cheers, I’m shaking and crying and screaming, “he did it!” Everyone turns to me to validate that, yes, my no-play-time son just made the perfect shot that put them up two points with 19 seconds left on the clock and their star player still icing his leg. Now they just have to keep them off, down the court, defense, 19-18 and then 5-4-3-2—-and 1. It’s done. Cheers, my boy carried across the court. hugs, you did it, MVP, more hugs.

Sometimes the most unlikely things happen, sometimes the short kid in the corner finally gets the ball. And sometimes, just sometimes, that kid takes his team to the championships.

a whit who’s going to be ridin’ on this victory for awhile. nothing but net.

Day 107: Malaysia Flight 370: Two Parents

In Children, Family, Father, Happiness, Kids, Love, Marriage, Mother, Parenting, Travel on March 16, 2014 at 3:15 am

Image

{photo via google search}

Amidst all the news reports surrounding the tragic mystery of Malaysia flight 370, there is one story I find to be most tragic. I guess it strikes a chord with me because it echoes one of my deepest fears–leaving my child to get on a plane and never seeing him again. When Muktesh Mukherjee and his wife Xiaomo Bai got on flight 370, they were intending to vacation and left their two young boys with their grandma. Now those two beautiful boys have to wonder if they will ever see their parents again. I cannot imagine what they must be feeling, I cannot imagine what Muktesh and his wife must have felt the moment they new something was ‘wrong.’

On my last vacation to the UK, I had a panic attack the entire trip (airplane ride and vacation). My partner thought I was legitimately insane for shaking violently when turbulence bounced us around on our way to Italy. But what was really happening, I was thinking of my beautiful little e, I was thinking how much he needs me, and I was praying nothing would happen to me because we need each other.

My heart aches tonight for those two little boys. My heart aches for those parents because I had a glimpse of what they must have felt–times a million. As we pray for their safe return to their little ones, let us all remember how lucky we are to have our love ones present with us in our lives. Sometimes we can forget how special they are when they’re right in front of us.

little e you played a great baseball game today and I love you for it.

to my other love, I love you to the moon around the stars and back again…

to my Ini, thank you for lying against my back while I sleep, you make the best fluffy cuddler…

love, love, love…

and to the Mukherjee family, you’re in our thoughts. I hope they soon find answers because two parents need their two boys.

a whit.

Day 99: On Worrying

In Happiness, Kids, life, Teaching on October 15, 2013 at 5:21 am

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote his 11 year-old daughter while she was away at summer camp. The object of his letter was simple, he wanted her to know the very things that warrant worry (and the many things that do not). He writes, “my little half-wit–”

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship…
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful intrument or am I neglecting it?

Day 97: Looking.

In Acceptance, Couples, Dating, Faith, Happiness on October 10, 2013 at 2:56 am

I’d lost all hope in love, and then I found it…and then I lost it.

The sadness is consuming and overwhelming. It hurts so bad, grieving hurts more than any physical pain and its hidden so no one sees it.

There is nothing lonelier than a blank phone, an empty bed, a quiet house, no one to share memories with, no one to share accomplishments with, no one to have fun with, laugh with, cry with. 

It’s so hard trying to mitigate this hurt. It’s a lonely process. 

There was a time when we first met, I think it was actually one of our first dates. He had gone fishing and he brought home Shad to cook–it was a rather bony fish and it didn’t turn out that well. The other night I visited with some friends and somehow the topic of “shad” came up, I told them how my boyfriend had once cooked it for dinner. They laughed, “that’s bait, you ate bait, no one actually eats shad.” I realized then that those are just memories, they’ll never happen again–not with him. I won’t eat “bait” again with him. It’s funny the things we hold on to, the things that seemed so insignificant at the time. I can’t glean a “lesson learned” from this, but I am trying. I have waited so long to meet someone who loves me. Where is he?

 

Day 93: I know the pain of a heartbreak…

In Couples, Dating, God, Happiness, life, Love, Teaching on August 4, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I couldn’t sleep the other night so I decided to do a random YouTube search. With all of the recent hype concerning little Prince George, I decided to look up Princess Diana interview footage; I wanted to see what she was like.

As I watched her talk, she was surprisingly candid and honest. I remember the hype around her death, although I was still young at the time, and the overwhelming commentary concerning her beautiful, giving heart. This became apparent to me as I listened to her speak. She made it clear that her issues were a means to empathy. She could feel what the bulemic girl in the hospital was feeling because she actually felt it too. She could understand the depressed woman because she felt it too.

All great, compassionate people love others in a way that is personal and close. They love that way because they’ve felt the pain of heartbreak once too.

Heartbreak isn’t easy,

It isn’t clear

And you don’t need Jesus till you’re here.

As I experience heartbreak in my life, I come to know two things better.

Life if full of pain.

And we can use that pain to do good, or we can let it eat away at us.

a whit.

Day 82: Cabo Wabo {The un-Spring Breakers}

In Blogging, Family, Fun, Happiness, Travel, UK on March 14, 2013 at 6:43 am

Whirlwind trip to Mexico.

My mom put it nicely, “So you went to Mexico for the weekend to get sunburned and come home.”

Sun.BURN.ed is correct. We managed to make it to Cabo after a whirlwind flight, one that Konk thought we wouldn’t make but we did, out of SFO. I think our morning went a little something like this, “Hon, it’s 5 a.m., the alarm didn’t go off.” British response: “get the *&^! out of bed!” and we were off! We managed to make it to the airport where Haz (otherwise known as Konk’s brother) maintained his casual gaze for an American wife.

{on a side note: it looks like he might have found one, from Georgia, not to be mistaken for the country bordering Turkey, yes, I’m talking Atlanta–she has been appropriately dubbed “Gobble Gobble”}

We finally made it to Mexico after a flight that involved lots of sleeping. Upon arrival, let the games begin–we grabbed a few Modelos and piled into the bus. Next, we nearly died. Truth be told, our airport shuttle driver almost, and I mean very much almost, plowed us into another vehicle at about 80 mph. I was thankful for my third row back placement but man–I saw my pretty face flash before my eyes. It then appeared that my wonderful boyfriend farted, loudly, next to an Israeli couple stationed side us. Turns out Mexican shuttle buses have no rear suspension which was apparently the source of the “noise.” I am still a bit skeptical, but he did fess up to the one at the check out counter of Marina de Fiesta so…We started our trip with a bang (still not confirmed) and definitely ended with one too.

Somewhere in the middle we enjoyed beer, good food, a deluxe junior suite, and of course an 8 hour Marlin sport fishing trip. Captain Paco Taco Francisco–

“you wanna catch da marlin, i get you da marlin”

500 bucks later, we ended up with a 2 pound tuna {which Konk took several pictures of, at several angles, in order to increase its size visual} and some spanish mackoral. The fishing trip was really interesting, the guys {aka fisherman in training} spent most of the time.

sleeping.

I spent most of the time.

sleeping.

We’d all wake up for the occasional, ay yay yay, which meant there was a whale, or a school of dolphins, or, finally, a two pound tuna.

at about hour 7, my Konk discovered the Coppertone in the lower boat cabin. Lying down, thinking about how burned I am feeling, I watch Konk lather some on his neck and laugh.

We exit the boat, and the burn begins to settle. All three of us, swelling, bright red,

Haz ended up with the worst of it, his woman seeking took a minor detour as he feared he might scare away any potential datees with his reflective forehead. Konk and I cuddled from a one foot span and we woke up ready to return back home.

On the way back, we passed a red lobster and Haz said he’d found his new home in their front window tank.

I am currently suffering from a bout of lepresy, my face is falling off in sheets.

And that my friends is how you do Cabo.

We’re destined to return and find that Marlin.

a whit who’s feeling fried.

Day 80: …you just might miss the point

In Children, Family, Happiness, Love, Motherhood on February 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

…life’s not the breath you take, but breathing in and out that gets you through the day

ain’t what it’s all about,

you just might miss the point to run to win the race, life’s not the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away.

Today I thought a lot about my life, and how so much of what we do in this life, the really good stuff, is compelled by the aforementioned philosophy.  That is, slowing down–we just might miss the point. 

When I first became a mother it was all about schedules, and feedings, and naps, and routines.  I think a lot of that was great but then I grew into my motherhood role and as little e grew we began to play trains, and I would teach him things, we would practice our letters and animals.  Part of learning is enjoying the process more than any ta-da moment.  As I spend more time with my Brit’s three year-old the memories of that process come to the surface.  It also reminds me how independent my 7 year-old e is now.  We’ve done a lot of slowing down lately in our household, we still accomplish things, but we find pleasure in being together and loving what were doing more than putting a tick on a list. 

Last week,

we took a helicopter flight over our city.

we went hunting.

we laughed to the point of tears.

we cuddled.

we endured a 45 minute tantrum, laughing together behind the scenes.

we held hands in the car.

we went grocery shopping with a 3 year-old.

We watched half a movie.

We ate beans on toast. {we bought a toaster}

We took a walk to the lake with e and skipped rocks.

we bought stumps of wood for 7.50$ and haggled the guy for 30 minutes.

we had a car dance party.

we team cleaned the house.

we watched the planes take off and land at the airport.

we ate cake.

The thing is, you can make all the lists in the world but without fulfillment in the doing you might as well just check it off unfulfilled. 

I am thankful today for my role as a mother.  I am thankful that I see the point more often than not.  I am thankful for the two boys that make me smile daily.  I am thankful I have a purpose and direction in my life.  I am thankful our family isn’t about winning the race–instead–we participate, truly.

a whit who finally feels whole.

Day 77: London Memories.

In Friends, Friendship, Happiness, Humanity, life, Teaching, UK, Wales on January 8, 2013 at 4:42 am

The UK was wonderful.

It’s amazing to me how different the lifestyle is just an ocean skip away.  It’s also amazing how calm I felt while on the farm in Wales and, I believe, I was anxiety/stress free.  I spent 10 days building fires [more like watching fires be built], juicing, tea-ing, drying clothes on the aga stove [with the accent I thought they were saying arga but only now did google correct me], taking fresh-air walks, reading poetry by Simon, enjoying fresh farm bacon and custard.

The list goes on.

The first night as I was lying in bed in the old farmhouse, I peeked out the window only to see complete darkness and the sky lit up with thousands of tiny stars.  It was there that my heart sank and, for me, the journey of my unspoken friendship came full circle. I believed, no I knew, at that moment, that we met for a reason and here it became clear to me.

Years ago now, I made this post about my friend [now one of my best friends].  It was an unlikely friendship, but here we are years later and I began to see the bigger picture.  This special friend met her husband while working in Tiffany’s, he had come in to buy a silver platter as a thank you gift for some friends he was staying with while visiting New York, he was British. They met and love ensued, she moved to London with him and they had their little boy.  I’m sure there was a night where she lie in bed, staring out the window, at the British stars just like me.  While I gazed my mind wandered to this thought.  She was young when she met him, probably my same age that I am now, in love with a Brit, and now here I am in love with one too.  I find it no coincidence that her dying husband arrived back from his very last trip to London on the same exact plane that Konk and I departed on to London, only one hour later. A trip, for us, that would commence a life, on the same exact plane where an end-of-life trip was coming to a close.

I once wrote, “why would she want to be friends with me?”  As I journeyed to London this holiday season I felt the answer deep within my heart.

It’s funny how the answers come, sometimes.  It’s funny how we write, speak, or feel questions not knowing if or when the answers will come.  In a lot of ways, this friend has taught me some of the most meaningful lessons on friendship–those lessons are part of the answer too.

These last couple of days it has been hard to hear of her “Brit’s” rapid decline, almost heartbreaking, my heart aches to think of her London story coming to a close.  She said to me the other day, I wish I was in the UK.  It’s so great, the best.

I thought, yes, you’re right, it is the best. I thought, let’s go there together.  Let’s make another London memory together.  It won’t be the the close of the book, only the chapter.  Could we?

Some questions, well, you know.

a whit who has thought a lot.

Day 75: I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Birthdays…

In Anthropologie, Birthday, DIY, Family, Happiness on January 7, 2013 at 8:14 am

I finally decided to open up an etsy shop.  thought it might be fun. more items to come on there.

In other news, we celebrated my mom’s birthday just yesterday, had lots of fun, and I think I’ve been deemed the family “birthday coordinator.” {lucky me, wink}

photo-96 photo-98

Birthdays have been a hot button issue for me over the last few years.  There have been some year’s of fun-filled, special-feeling ones, and then a few crappers.  I remember one year I only received one facebook “happy birthday” and that really sent me spiraling downward, “did everyone forget about me?” Imagine that, judging a birthday by its social network significance.

The recipe, it seems, to a perfect birthday involves love and happiness.  It’s not about presents {although they are nice} but rather that someone {or lots} would remember you on your special day–because everyone knows you can’t make your own day special [no fun].

This year I came home to balloons and a gift on my back doorstep from my lovely sister. I got several birthday calls and spent a wonderful weekend away with my konk in the heart of wine country. It was a remembering birthday–I’ll never forget it because it reminded me how important it is to have that kind of day.

Thank you to everyone who made my birthday special this year [a little late, I know].

better late than never.

a whit.

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