Thursday Thoughts From the Throne

Clock feature in a small park in NYC

Is the day over? No?

Phew!

Made it. 

My colon has been awfully out of whack this week. So has my running schedule, come to think of it…

So, most of the time I try to avoid talking politics and religion with my patients and my friends. There are only a few trusted people I feel I can have a rational conversation with. Today, though, I ran across one of those people who was trying to convince me that my theology was misguided and that abortion was wrong in all circumstances. Even in the case of an 11 year old girl who was molested by her uncle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this guy. He is a good man, even if we fundamentally disagree. However, he made a comment about prayer in school that got my dander up. Specifically he said that Christian prayers only should open every school day and that more of it probably would have prevented the Las Vegas shooter from killing all of those people.

Um. No.

I am going to skip the theology question and the abortion issue and hit on that school prayer statement.

Being prayed at is not the thing that prevents hurting people from lashing out. Love does. Good parents who try to do right by their kids and their spouses, fellow human beings who show kindness…. these are the things that prevent damaged people. 

Loving people who need it is awfully darn hard. 

I am not saying don’t pray. Go ahead and pray. I pray. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can help you love, help you find kindness when you don’t think there is any left inside of you. Here’s the thing, though: Don’t you ever think for one minute that your prayer means you have done your duty and your responsibility to other people stops there. No. You have to physically reach outside of yourself and help those around you or you are just saying empty words. 

I used to be that person, the one for whom the world was black and white. No amount of arguing or reasoning could change my mind. I was so full of anger back then. Why doesn’t everyone see the logic that I see? Life had to show me the all of the other shades of gray and the myriad of vibrant colors that make up this world. It had to show me that I am not as smart as I thought I was. 

Life is still teaching me.

Kind of makes me wonder what I will think of this post in ten years…

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Flight

Birds in flight inside the American Museum of Natural History in NYC

“I asked her, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ She touched my face and smiled. ‘No. Not at all.’

‘How can you not have fear?’

‘Because I have you. You are the strongest man I know.’”

He stopped for a moment, emotion stealing his words.

“The tumor doubled in size in 7 days. I don’t know what to do, how to help her… how to let her go.”

I have had so many conversations like this, two just this week. I always marvel at how the afflicted can be so strong, so full of peace and resolve even as those around them are falling to pieces. 

What sets them apart? 

There have been times in my life where I have been so depressed I have prayed to die. 

Please, God, take me in any way that you see fit…

But I was never peaceful about it.

I have fear. So much fear.

Fear of suffering. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the loss of control. Fear of being known for who I really am.

Who am I?

What sets them apart?

How do you come to terms with dying? 

“She says she will see me later, that it isn’t really goodbye.”

Faith.

Is it possible that it is simply faith in love… love which takes many forms… that gives us peace?

Thursday Thoughts From The Throne #4


Today’s’ thought is brought to you by my upstairs bathroom….

I am a huge fan of grandparents. I really love celebrating Grandparents Day. I do NOT, however, appreciate schools celebrating Grandparents Day by inviting everyone’s grandparents to come for some function or another. 

Here’s why:

  1. They are invariably disorganized.
  2. There are always a fair number of kids whose grandparents are dead or live too far away to come.

My kids are blessed that they have a grandmother who comes to these things but I have each year encountered the kids who don’t, who are stashed in a back room looking forlorn and left out. It tugs at my heart. 

This year my kids were supposed to write letters and make artwork for their grandparents. Earlier this year their PawPaw died. My son’s letter read like this:

Dear grandfather, I wish I could still speak with you. Even if I will not see you, I will always keep you in my heart.

He gave it to his Granny instead. 

It was good on some level, helping the kids work through their grief but I sure do wish the exchange could have been done privately instead of in front of the whole assembly, putting their grief and their grandmother’s grief on display. 

And that is all my butt has time for today!

Infertility 

Ellis Island hospital

Graciously bestowing 
You spilled your precious seed
Upon my barren ground
Ignorant and unknowing
An unfulfilled wanton need
Your attempt at marking 
A territory unfound
Traversing the open sea

The ownership unclaimed
My body left untamed
Believing you were deceived
I’m naked beneath the gown
Empty loss echoes down 
Long abandoned corridors
Infertility finally decreed
By the sterile orators 

Devoid of progeny 
The solemn sodomy
Repeats itself again
Another painful bleed
An unwelcome visitor
Testifing silently
Before the Inquisitor
Sounding the final amen

A viscous self loathing
Clogs the rusted plumbing
Magnified through your eyes
Value is forever drowned
Held down by a flood of lies
I’m merely something to breed
A conduit for birthing
Your immortality 

Worn

Interior, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Every year around this date I especially find myself marveling at love…

Love that is gained and lost, and found again. Love that is unrequited and unrewarded and yet still persists. Love that claws its way through the heart and lodges itself there against all logic and stays regardless of physical presence or absence. Love that endures despite being utterly spent, never quite reaching the point where it simply cannot love anymore. 

Lonely love.

Brilliant love.

Eternal love.

For over twenty years I have loved this love. At times gingerly, even tentatively, and at other times fiercely and with conviction. Is it more valuable for bearing all of the scars and scuff marks, the wear and tear of time and hurt? Is it more precious for simply surviving?

Perhaps….

But then, all love is precious. 

The Artist

Room detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

Over twelve years ago I met an artist.

What she had was a gift. I never had to tell her what to do. It was like she just knew. Left to create on her own she did the most amazing work.

Today was my last appointment with her. 

My hair stylist is retiring and I am grieving. She was the first and only person to ever take charge of my hair and make it look GOOD. She made me feel better about my hair, about myself. I cannot put into words how important and life changing that was.

When I ask patients what they do, often I’ll get the, “I’m JUST a…. fill in the blank.” Hair dresser, office worker, mail handler, Mom, etc. I hate, hate, hate that phrasing. 

Never doubt that what you do has an impact. No matter what your job happens to be, it matters to someone. 

It matters to me.

Maybe I will find someone just as good. 

Maybe I won’t. 

I loathe this kind of change so it will be a growing experience regardless but for now, I grieve. She was an artist in the true sense of the word and she will be missed.

The Tipping Point

Buildings in Philadelphia

“Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“Nah. I’m just going to sit here until the weather passes,” the man said gruffly. He sat down in the corner out of her line of sight.

She shrugged and slid closed the clear glass window to the waiting room. He didn’t look threatening. Rain was pouring down outside. What did it matter if he sat for a few minutes?

He began talking into his phone loudly, clearly agitated about something. Patients looked at each other quizzically, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. They stole furtive glances at him, watching him mutter into the phone pressed against his face. It was impossible to hear exactly what he was saying between the growls.

When is the nurse going to call me back? Please let it be soon.

As he was talking the phone rang loudly. Clearly, he hadn’t been talking to anyone at all….

Then he stood, yelling into the ringing phone, threatening to kill anyone and everyone. As shaky fingers dialed 911, he bolted out of the door and ran across the parking lot never to be found again.

Perhaps I’m a silly dingbat but people behaving like that never would have bothered me in the past, at least not where I would have taken them seriously. 

Now though? We were all shaken up. I find myself wondering what is lying in wait around the corner of every person’s mind. I get nervous at airports and look over my shoulder at large events. Where is the next explosion going to come from? Who will fire the next bullet? Could I have stopped them?

Fear is sexy. Fear sells. Fear drives a wedge, keeping us from reaching out to help others. Fear protects us. Fear hurts us. Fear is necessary and yet it multiplies and it divides us. 

Part of me wants to just stay home, to never go anywhere anymore and then I remind myself that acts of courage are the only way to really combat fear. Anger only feeds fear. So does isolation. 

And so I get onto airplanes and take my kids to places that probably live as targets in someone else’s mind so that at least for me, fear will not win. 

Fatherless

Rose window example, San Antonio

“Can you tell me anything about your father’s medical history?”

“No. I don’t know him.” He shrugged as if it was no big deal but his voice said otherwise. 

Next patient…. 

“What about your father’s medical history?”

She scrunched up her face. “I think he’s still alive? I don’t know for sure. I never knew him.”

Next patient…

“So your mother is alive and has diabetes. Do you know anything about your father?”

“I’m not in contact with him.” The disdain came across loud and clear in her voice. “I hope he’s dead.”

If fathers ever think they don’t matter, they should sit in my seat and listen to the pain they can generate even when they are not there.

‘Tis the Season

Dried flower

There was a time I believed that the longer I was practicing medicine the easier the dying would get. Practice or callous formation, call it what you will. I just thought it would be easier.

That is not the case, though. 

These long standing relationships, the people I see for years and years, are the hardest to part with even when you are expecting it. It still hurts. And with each passing it brings me closer and closer to my own end.

This is the dying season, it seems, those couple of months after the holidays when everyone who was holding on is now ready to let go. 

Everyone but me. 

Not yet, anyway…

Tributary

bright uellow gerber daisy

There are exceptional people you can come across in life if you are lucky, people who make you feel like a better version of you. Smarter. Prettier. Kinder. More patient. 

Not empty flattery. No. They have a knack for finding the gem of you and making you sparkle and shine.

I have been blessed to find a few of these people in my lifetime. Paul Curran was one of those. I looked forward to his comments for that very selfish reason. He made me feel better about me.

I realize that he was a virtual friend, someone I never met, but what I feel now is a very real sense of grief and sadness. Strangely that is made worse by the fact that I can find no obituary, no mark of his passing except for the deafening silence that exists now on my blog and on many others. 

I want to fill up that emptiness. I want to shout out to the world, to his physical friends, to his family: I KNEW PAUL CURRAN. He was my friend. He existed. He was a priceless member of the human race. He touched many lives. He made a difference. He mattered.

Just as I hope someone will say about me when I am gone.