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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 124: A Serial Dater

In Couples, Dating, Love, Men, Relationships, Romance, Teaching on September 20, 2016 at 4:26 am

I started dating someone new, and, admittedly, I must have spent half of the day with my mind looking something like this:

He’s nice, I really like him.

to…

He’s not right for me because when I got sick the other night instead of calling me he told me to sleep it off like some idiot prick.

but…

He took me to the movies the other night and we must have laughed for half of the night and when we went to brunch on Sunday he kept his hand on my leg the entire time and shared his eggs and sausage with me. Plus, he doesn’t like to eat the ends of sausage or bananas either which basically makes him my food soulmate (because everyone knows that eating the ends of those kinds of things is disgusting and weird).

but…

He doesn’t always call me in the evening to say hi.

to…

He doesn’t mind if I wear a shower cap and he taught me how to keep my bath towels from smelling like mold.

but…

He STILL hasn’t fixed my sliding closet door which fell off the track, and he said he’d fix it when we started dating two weeks ago.

to…

He asked if he could go with me to my son’s soccer game, cutely, by inquiring if I wanted company…clearly he cares about my role as a mother.

but…

I’m not really sure if he’s ready to date a women with a child. I mean he doesn’t have children himself and, clearly, he doesn’t understand what it involves and how tiring it is to be a single parent.

to…

He also supports the #hilaryforprison hashtag and loves sending crude memes. Oh, and he follows cute baby animals on his instagram feed so, yeah, there’s that.

After spending the last couple of days reading Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance, and an article a friend sent to me about the topic of love and relationships, I realize I am plagued by my own love conundrum (and it’s probably the reason I have been single too long).

First, I have an extremely difficult time saying…look let’s give this a shot, a real shot. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am pretty much a serial dater. I have never really wanted to admit it, but I think it’s partially true at this point in my life. I mean, yes, there are definitely bozos out there, and I am smart to get rid of them, but there have also been a smattering of really great guys over the years that I have kicked to the curb before truly giving them (or myself) a chance to connect. As Ansari says in his book, we judge people on initial impressions without giving ourselves the time that is needed to actually SEE if a connection could even exist. A lot of this is perpetuated by online dating, we see a box on a profile that says something (like he’s a Lakers fan) and then we say – no – I love the Warriors and so we could obviously never be a match. Then we click to the next profile. Realistically though, if we met this same person in real life we may not find out they are a Lakers fan until days or weeks down the road in which time we may already have built a connection with them and then it doesn’t seem like as big of deal that they like the worst basketball team EVER. Online dating teaches our brain to check boxes and in essence “filter,” instantanteously but what we must realize is that people are not boxes – they are people with dynamic personalities, quirks and interests. It is oftentimes all of these things, too, (the personalities, quirks and interests) that are what make a lasting relationship.

Moving on to my next big relationship prob.

I spend a lot of time analyzing how someone is loving me. Is it enough? Are they giving me enough? Are they just using me? How often do they show me they care? I know why I do this. I do this because in my last relationship I finally taught myself to be selfless and I gave of my whole self, I fell in love, and then I got BURNED. So, now I have taught myself to turn that selfless love thing OFF. I don’t fully give of myself, I don’t embark in being LOVING and instead focus on being LOVED and LOVABLE. In the above mentioned article I read, it reminds us that to receive love we have to be loving. For instance, the other night I thought to myself this guy is really not that loving…it pissed me off. But then I decided to try an experiment. I told him I wanted to go to dinner, he never lets me pay, he says ladies don’t pay, and for this reason I knew that INSISTING to pay at dinner would come across to him as an act of loving and caring on my part. After dinner his entire attitude changed, he was more caring toward me, we connected better and we spent the entire rest of the night laughing and being close. I could see his demeanor changed after I picked up the check…he felt an investment on my part and by giving love I had shown him it was OK for him to be vulnerable back.

So, takeaway for today for this new relationship:

Give it a CHANCE.

Be LOVING to receive LOVE.

Btw, he just sent me this text: “you’re my blonde bombshell. I miss your face.” He’s not THAT bad and I like that my bath towels no longer smell like moldy cheese thanks to him.

a whit who’s TRYING to date.

 

 

Day 90: Seven Principles to Making a marriage Work and The 30-Day Love Detox (Read Them!)

In Couples, Love, Marriage, Men, Relationships, Romance, Women on July 13, 2013 at 1:34 am

 

Sometimes we fail to recognize the things we love more than anything until they are no longer present.

When I first got married, I loved under the impression that marriage was supposed to be perfect.  I thought couples never fought and guys always brought home flowers when they did something wrong.  Boy was I wrong.

I recently read a couple good books that clarified this very concerning mishap in understanding the workings of a healthy relationship. If you haven’t read The Seven Principles to Making a Marriage Work then you should.  As I learned, it doesn’t matter if you’re married, divorced, in a complicated state (as we like to call it thanks to facebook), or hopelessly single.  This book is fabulous at helping individuals understand their role within a union and the inevitable role they must play on their own.

The other great self reference book I’d recommend is The 30-Day Love Detox.  If you’re a feminist you’ll find this book especially charming as I did.  However, it also appeals to the more traditional woman; infact, it provides tools to help you determine who you are.  (Unfortunately for me, I am a traditionalist trapped in a career woman’s body which is causing my uterus problems as of late).  This book emphasizes the importance of a “plan” and while I don’t advocate life or love plans as the be-all end-all, I do think they provide some sense of direction when you’re trying to find your identity and re-steer your course.  I really loved this book because it was written by a single mom, and although her own personal professional to dating is shocking in the end, it gives a glimpse at the different aspects of single mothering and such (but that’s for another post). 

While I hate losing things, and I hate even more perusing the “self help” section, which Barnes and Nobles has so eloquently re-named the “Relationship” section, I found these two books insightful and realistic.  Love isn’t a game, or a test, as lots of other books hinge, it’s just being you and weathering the bumps together.

As I was perusing Pinterest I notice an old love letter written by a guy named John, it was a famous John but which one I cannot now recall, he writes:

We got old and got used to each other.  We think alike.  We read each others’ minds.  We know what the other one wants without asking.  Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit.  Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and I realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met.  You still fascinate and inspire me.  You influence me for the better.  You’re the onject of my desire the #1 earthly reason for my existence.  I love you very much.

The crowning characteristic of love is loyalty. 

a whit.

 

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