Five years ago, give or take one in either direction, I read “The Book of Disquiet” by the Portuguese philosophical novelist Pessoa. I only remember one line and I probably understand it wrong. Still that being said, after all these years the phrase that still bounces around my mind is: “We are as large as our vision.” Or something like that. For the past week or so I have been dealing with a sty on my sinister eye. Besides the slight mar on the Mona Lisa-like beauty of my face, it has been among the smallest of tragedies at home or abroad. While it is only a minor annoyance, a slight pain, the sty has decreased my field of vision, forcing me to rely heavily on my right eye, which can see about as well as a near-sighted mole. For the past week my world has become fuzzy, thin, and small. In turn I have found myself cranky and short, irritable and small. To see small is to see with damaged vision, too tight to take it all in, too fuzzy for focus, and as our vision shrinks we diminish along with it. Depending on our gaze, the world is either a tiny place or else a cosmos endlessly complicated, interwoven, and huge. A small world is one of problems; a large world is full of potential. A small world is a world of weakness, a large world one of strength. Small worlds contain only pain, large worlds make space for relief, small worlds only know suffering, large worlds know meaning within and beyond the suffering. May we always see large and in turn may we grow to meet our vision. Grow to trust in the strength of others, to hope for wholeness beyond the brokenness, and to see our patients and their families as massive as they truly are. May we be large enough to bear another’s burden just long enough to help them see their ability to carry it themselves.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
I used to think of my car as an island of good tunes in a sea of pop-y nonsense. The car used to be home to Dylan and the Dead, the Stones and the Talking Heads. Since my child got old enough to have an opinion, I would pay to hear Lloyd Price and sitting through a Smokey Robinson tune would be a miracle. Nowadays Hugh cries if he can’t listen to the ubiquitous songs, the Katy Perry and Taylor Swift anthems which are spread thin across every platform from radio to TV commercials. The top forty garbage that lays like a blanket over the media world, the songs we are subject to hear a hundred times a day. It’s a shame but no surprise Hugh likes this stuff. Humans are designed to be drawn to the familiar. The average heart beats between 60 and 120 beats per minute. This is the cadence of the quickening rhythm of life. I have been told that nearly every popular piece of music, every tune that resonates with large swaths of the population, matches this magic rhythm of 60 to 120 beats per minute. Something happens to us when we hear music with this beat, a familiarity as the outside matches the inside; the harmony of the heart and human experience, the beat and the body, overlap. Music that lands in that mystic 60 to 120 beats per minute, is the anthem of life, and that draws us to it. A dying person’s heartbeat can become erratic and chaotic, prone to sudden changes and shifts, the rhythm out of sync with that song of life. The heartbeat of the dying is dissonant, less the polished notes of a symphony and more the harsh wail of a car alarm. While the sweet spot of 60 to 120 beats is accessible to all, the heartbeat of the dying is in not nearly as familiar, not nearly as pleasing. The heartbeat of the dying is not a top 40 pop song, it’s Miles Davis not Britney Spears. We are drawn to the comfortable, fall easily into the simple and familiar, but we can find a strange beauty in the eerie, erratic rhythm at the end of a life. The song of death can carry a meaning and power all its own. Our task is to smooth out the shrill notes, to make sense of the noise. When we do our jobs right, when things go as we wish them to go, our patients and families can find meaning in the end of a life. We can help people move confidently along the rhythm of death. It is our blessing and our charge to help our patients and their families to find beauty in the final heartbeats, and music in our last moments.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Google Image Search (I think this picture is from Dr. Who)
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
This one is political feel free to skip it if you want The murder of Walter L. Scott was a crime on us all. The system, the system by which we survive, by which society is allowed to grow and thrive, is a good system, and the most important part of it is the police. The police allow us to put aside the eye for eyes, to beat our swords into plowshares, to live by love, trusting that when things go wrong a dispassionate third party exists to sort things out. This has allowed violence to drop to its lowest point in the entire course of human history. We truly live in a beautiful time, and police, courts, elected officials, and every other part of our system allows for that. The system works by working for all, and if it doesn’t, becomes useless for all. The man who murdered Walter L. Scott took eight shots not just at the man but at the system, and in turn all of us. One shot rang out, it tore through Walter L. Scott’s back, and it ripped through our lies. Another shot rang out, the bullet puncturing Walter’s side, and it put a tear through our trust. A third shot rang out, it whizzed over Walter’s head putting at risk everyone in the neighborhood and everyone in the country. The murderer’s gun sang a fourth time. This bullet entered Walter’s arm, exited his hands. He would never hold his children again. We lost grip on our children’s future. A fifth shot missed again, digging itself in the wall of a nearby building as it dug itself into the foundations of our laws. The gun was fired again and Walter fell to the ground no place left to run. Hopefully we can no longer evade the truth. A seventh shot again in the back, tracing old lines from years of beatings and abuse, the racism that is part of all of our skin no matter how much we deny it. The eighth brutal shot flew from the murderer’s gun. It silenced his heart and made all of ours scream, and left a bullet hole in the back of God. Walter was murdered that day. Along with his death, our system and our society was wounded. Death’s grasp on the individual is strong, but we are stronger together. As a society we can heal the wound, we can become whole again, though the scars must remain to remind us. We can emerge stronger and better, but Walter is still dead and his family will still grieve, and that is a horror and a tragedy.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
*Google image search