In the moment, she asks me to feel into the place where the longing lives, where the desire to reach out to others arises. I find myself moving my right hand to reach toward someone who is not there, reaching for something that is elusive, something just out of reach. Drawing my attention to the feeling, she asks me to stay with the longing, to sink into it, let it fill me up, let it flicker to life within me in a deep way. I notice the ache in my heart for comfort and love, the ache in my heart to be held close, and the voice in my head tells me it is not possible. Skillfully she notices that change, asking me about this voice, she offers to say those words out loud so I can study them more closely. Hearing those words shifts the longing to a deeper place, and unconsciously my hands begin to cradle my face.
“He had great faith in you, and you let him down…” These words landed, heavily, in the middle of my chest. These words brought pain, they were a tool to bring pain, and they did their job well. I cannot know the state of mind within the one who spoke those words, but I imagine they came from a place of great worry, great pain, and great anger. I have spoken words like this myself on occasions, more than I would care to remember at any given moment, and when I have used words like this with others, they were designed to hurt. It is from this place of seeing the pain, that I began to wonder about why anyone would choose to be a physician, and I realized it’s because no one really knows what they’re saying yes to when they pursue this career.
There she was, it had been so long since I had caught sight of her, I wasn’t sure at first if I recognized her, she had changed so much over the years, or had I? She was peeking around the corner checking in to see how I was doing. I am surprised she still visits me, after the way I treated her all those years ago. If I let myself, I can easily remember those days. Those had been rough days, when it wasn’t safe to have her around anymore.
‘How did you know what to say to her?’ asked the resident, ‘We have been trying to figure her out all morning and have gotten nowhere.’ An expression of mixed curiosity and frustration crossed her face. ‘I try not to focus on how she is acting, as much as I try to talk to the part of her Jesus would love’, I found myself answering. This catch phrase would find its way into conversation regularly during the years of teaching, it captured a concept I had struggled to teach prior to that moment of insight. The concept of connection, it is one of the most difficult things for doctors in training to understand. Years of training make this more difficult, training that does not focus upon the human connection, instead focusing upon the biological working of humans.
A phrase to change the world...
The most liberating thing I have learned in my life to date is the following phrase…..
Everyone is doing the best they can…if they could do better they would.
Thinking lightly about that phrase we often find ourselves viewing it with a degree of judgement, ‘I know Bob, and I have seen him do a lot better than he is giving me right now!’ or my personal favorite, the self-deprecating ‘Jeez you would think after so many years I would do that better than I did’. However, both of these miss the mark of what is being said in that small phrase., so let me repeat it to make it fresh for us all…
t is interesting how life can take you by surprise. Just when you feel like you have things figured out, and that you are finally moving forward and understanding yourself, life comes along and drops some stuff in your lap to review.
Wow, I thought I had worked through that stuff…..maybe not…..the fact that it is here means it is important to work on…..what is it asking me to do?!?