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Archive for the ‘life’ Category

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.

Day 121: Times

In life, loss, Love, The Tonight Show on November 4, 2015 at 3:44 am

THIS podcast starts out with a quote from Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

I share this podcast because I find it to be beautiful and relate able. As comedian Anthony Griffith shares his experience as an up- and-coming Tonight Show comedian and a father to a 2-year old daughter battling cancer, he talks about what it was like, during the early 90s, to go to work and entertain throughout the day as an amateur comedian while living a home life plagued by medicines, hospitals and the fear of losing his child.

I typically share things on my blog that I can connect with, and when I listened to Anthony’s monologue I felt an instant connection. Only last year, I had begun a new job and simultaneously my new husband left me. I would, like Anthony explains in his piece, go to work everyday and put on a game face when inside I was deeply mourning. I don’t think anyone knew, but I knew. I worked through the crisis much like Anthony did, “but I had a plan” I would tell myself. A plan that went kaput.

I was a grown woman, and I didn’t know what to do.

Until one day I did.

Just like Anthony, I had to man up. “This ain’t no sitcom, that wraps up nice and pretty in 30 minutes, this is life, welcome to the real world.”

Just like Anthony, I bucked up because that’s what I was supposed to do.

Anthony ends with this quote:

“In 1990 I had 3 Tonight Show appearances with Johnny Carson and a total of 14 applause breaks — and I would have given it all up if I could just have one more day sharing a bag of french fries with my daughter.”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“In 2014, I became a woman with an up-and-coming career and a title — and I would have given it all up if I could have one more day laughing in the car holding hands.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

…but the miracle to me is what we share and how one person’s story can, in ways, mirror yours — “at least if we’re alone, we’re all alone in it together.”

a whit.

Day 114: My List of “isms”

In Helping others, life, Love, Service, Stories on August 17, 2014 at 2:49 am

Just the other day at work, our company exec did a coffee hour where she shared her list of personal “isms.” Or rather, her 8 life rules–the ones that she always lives by. Throughout, she encouraged each one of us in attendance to find our own isms and live by them daily too.

Through her nudging, today I am starting my list. I will begin with #1, one I stole from her (because she said that we can do that).

Helping others is better than being helped. ***Never forget to teach your children this very important lesson (this part added by me)***

I have to add, with each of her isms our exec shared an anecdote that was particularly touching and wholeheartedly relateable. This ism’s story began like this:

Once upon a time, before I became a business women, I was a mom, and I was a basketball coach. I used to coach a team with several boys on it, many of them from “the other side of the tracks.” One day, one of “my boys” was acting funny. I asked him, “what’s wrong?” To which he responded, “well, you know my mom has been very sick, in the hospital, and I have been staying with my grandma and, well, we don’t have a lot of money, so I am just really hungry.”

With a little probing, I soon learned that this boy had only had one peanut butter and jelly sandwich the morning prior–it was now 8 o’clock at night following a vigorous basketball practice. I plopped him into the car and promptly took him to the nearest KFC for a much needed meal. When we were readying to leave, my own son, who was sitting in the back seat of the car, turned to me and questioned, “Mom, do you think we can get him something to eat for tomorrow too?”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, most of my greatest memories in my life have involved both service and sacrifice. When I look back on my own childhood and adolescence, what I remember most, what is most poignant, was the helping others. The Fridays I spent with an old lady named Betty Sanders, cleaning dog hair from her 100 pound German Shepard, off every crevice of her house while simultaneously listening to her stories of her blind husband who had died only a few years prior. Or the winter we surprised a boy’s family, one who was on my high school football team, with an entire Christmas since they didn’t have the money for even a tree due to his dying sister’s expensive medical bills. If I look back on these opportunities, as I see them, it was the listening that really encouraged the giving. Stopping, just as our company exec had, to notice someone, to notice their needs. I will forever be thankful to my own parents for teaching me to observe and then act. There is truth in this: you will never know the beauty of touching another life, if you only live for yourself.

stay tuned as I continue to share my isms…

a whit.

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 106: Sometimes We Have to Find Our Knees

In Beauty, Books, life, Sadness, Thoughts on March 15, 2014 at 6:15 am

Image

If you have ever read the book Little Bee then you probably remember this line:

“Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. The next thing you know something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile.”

Or this one:

“We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, ‘I survived’.”

Some days I feel like I’m writing a very sad story, and some moments I feel like my scars are so deep they’re imprinted on my heart. The cover of the Little Bee story features a black silhouette of Little Bee’s profile and written all over her face is scrawled the title in twisted and tangled letters. I have to admit, I couldn’t even make out the title of the book in the store, and it wasn’t until I began to read that I realized it read–Little Bee. Looking at the book again tonight sitting her aside my computer, I realize the letters are Little Bee’s scars written all over her face, her face then plastered on her story.

Tonight I sit trying to make sense of my own scars, trying to sort out which ones are jagged, raised, white from years of settling, fresh with redness and newness. I’m a thinker. Sometimes I spend hours trying to figure out these scars, how to wipe them away and make myself flawless again. Tonight I am reminded that scars never disappear, they are marks of survival, they are part of our story that got the chance to keep being written.

I fell to my knees in prayer, not because I’m religious, but because I needed some thing else to hear my story even if it was just the air. I needed to show my scars, to itemize them, and then I needed to remember that a sad story means that I am alive and with the flick of a page I will turn around to smile again.

a whit.

Day 102: Tap, Tap, Tap {a film: Bridegroom}

In Couples, Gay Marriage, life, Love, Marriage on November 2, 2013 at 6:47 am

It’s not often that something inspires me so much so that I have to immediately find my computer and start to write.

After clicking through the multiple netflix documentary options, I finally settled on Bridegroom–a film about a gay man whose partner dies.

What unfolds throughout the film is a beautiful story of true love. Tom is in early twenties when he accidentally falls off of the roof of his friend’s apartment building while taking pictures. What follows is not the story of Tom’s death, but the story of his life, with Shane, his partner. There is a moment in the film where Shane talks about how scared he was to tell Tom publicly that he loved him, for fear of what others might have thought, so instead, if the couple were out, they would tap the table three times tap {I} tap {love} tap {you}. One of the unique features of the film is its recap of the actual messages Tom and Shane shared during their six-year relationship. They would banter about traveling the world together, which they did, and having a kid, and teaching it how to ride a bike, and eating family meals with the dog underneath the table patiently awaiting scraps. Real stuff.

After Tom’s death, the hospital nurses give Shane a beautiful gift–a gift of time. They allow Shane moments with Tom before his family arrives–even though he is not “family” according to hospital policy. Not knowing this would be his last time near Tom’s body, Shane only finds one thing appropriate for the moment–he reaches out and taps Tom’s leg three times.

It’s hard for me to imagine, having been in love, having had my own three-hand squeeze, to understand how anyone could see love differently just because someone is gay. As the film depicts, Tom loved everyone, even his parents, the ones who ultimately deny his true identity, he still loved them.

In this life there is nothing more precious than the opportunity to love someone–to serve them. Shane and Tom, and their story, are a testament to this. Tom’s true legacy is what he gave those in his life, including Shane, “an unconditional love.”

This film will move you beyond words, you must watch it.

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 98: P.S. I Love You

In Books, Humanity, life, Love, Marriage, UK, Women on October 13, 2013 at 3:01 am

When I first saw the film P.S. I Love You, I knew it would always be a favorite of mine. It took me all the way across the world to Ireland, and it inspired my hike through the Wicklow National Forest–the very place where Holly met Jerry. Those that know me, know that I can, and do, watch this film over and over and over–

They often ask me, “why do you love it so much? It’s such a sad story.” While it does have its sad elements, I think there is something terribly empowering about the film. In it Holly has to learn how to make a life of her own because when Jerry dies Holly’s identity dies with him; he’s all she has ever known. She has to learn how to be by herself, one of the hardest lessons someone can endure in this life, and she has to learn how to build the very life that she questions at the start of the film, “I just see all of our friends buying houses and having babies–I wonder when our life is going to start?” Jerry laughs, “Our life has already begun, this is it, this is our life Holly.” After Jerry dies, Holly gets letters from him, the letters aren’t for Jerry, even though he claims they’re sent because “he just can’t let go yet.” They’re for Holly. They act as a mentor on her powerful, and oftentimes difficult journey.

I think we learn to love the things that we identify with. In an interview with the author of the book that inspired the film, the author describes this very feeling, “Writing this book was a very lonely process, but in a lot of ways it was very similar to what Holly experiences within the novel. It’s an isolating process, but you always come out on the other end better for it.”

I don’t watch the film for the “love story” aspect, I watch it because it reminds me how to be powerful and courageous. I watch it because it reminds me that this is my life and I shape the journey (part of the reason I went to Ireland two years ago). At the end of the film Holly’s mother tells her, “just remember that if we’re all alone then at least we’re all in that together too.” 142098210V

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 89: Belated Father’s Day Post

In Children, Family, Kids, life, Love on June 18, 2013 at 5:37 am

This post is late.

I’ve been making list lately and then I try to cross off each thing as I get it done. Blogging has been on my list for the past several days, but I haven’t managed to make it here till now.

Father’s Day was a great one, with my mom and sister out of town, I got to take my Dad to breakfast at his favorite spot in midtown.  Today, as I visited the blogs of my friends, and read all of their Father’s Day posts, it really brought things into perspective.  Their comments, combined with the experience of my own loving Dad, reminded me of the important role a Father plays in his children’s lives.

While we were at breakfast, my Dad commented, “they only made Father’s Day as an afterthought of Mother’s Day.”  I laughed remembering a card I gave my boyfriend last year that said, “Know why Father’s Day is in June? They didn’t want the Dad’s to feel left out.” But really, a Father is so important to his children.  A good one knows exactly what makes their kids happy, sad, and everything in between.  Just like a mom.  A good one never fears grounding their child for bad behavior because they know they will love them for it one day.  A good one takes the time to build up his family and strengthen them through support.  A good one isn’t afraid to show his emotion and care.  A good one can’t wait to throw a ball or play a game in between work. 

My Dad and I reminisced about what a determined, bossy child I was.  I used to make up these “game shows” where everyone in the family was required to participate.  There is actual footage of me commanding each family member to “go,” which meant for them to read their rehearsed part at the exact moment of direction. If it didn’t go as planned, exactly, all hell broke loose.

A good Dad puts on the Wheel of Fortune name tag and lets his ten year-old daughter boss him around for a bit.  A good Dad remembers things like “devil child game shows” and laughs wholeheartedly.  

Thank you Dad for being a good Dad.

a whit. who has grown out of her bossypants.

 

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