My friends, it’s been an intense couple of weeks! So much so that I have fully neglected the news headlines—this must be why I’m still in a reasonably good mood. Another is that I have rediscovered Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, the wise and benevolent matron of medicine whose gentle and gracious example I aspire to follow.
I first read her books, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings, at least ten years ago by now. They felt like my favorite plush blanket, draped over my shoulders with that welcome, comforting weight, and tucked under my feet, warming me with stories of love and belonging. Life was just as hectic then as today, but in a different way. The kids were little, and I had few if any responsibilities at work outside of patient care. Aunt Rachel’s stories calmed me and gave me peace in that young chaos. I had meant to reread them, but, well, life.
I perused the shelves and stacks of my personal library recently, searching for a book that my friend might like. Both avid readers, we share and discuss titles on leadership, philosophy, and personal development. The search this day felt different from browsing Amazon or my local book store. A deeper part of me knew exactly what I sought for my friend, even as my conscious mind had only a vague idea. I wanted to share something different with him, something less cerebral. As soon as I saw it, I settled on My Grandfather’s Blessings, no question. But after a day or two, as often happens with instantaneous intuitive decisions, I did question. So I sat down with Aunt Rachel and her grandfather one evening, as if meeting old friends in the squishy armchairs of a cozy, familiar café. After some years of listening to books rather than reading them, I find quiet sitting with a paper book so comforting now. I am called to slow down, to be still, more than I have been (have allowed?), for a very long time.
By page two of the introduction, my doubts vaporized. This is it, I thought. Stories of humanity, history, culture, medicine, healing, perspective, and how we humans are intertwined with one another and nature in the most beautiful and cosmic, inescapable and daunting ways. As I reread her grandfather’s wise sayings, his subtle yet unmistakable messages of reassurance and unconditional love, that familiar warmth enveloped me again. I could almost feel my blood pressure drop and my oxytocin level rise.
So much love and connection—the book is really all about relationships, which my friend and I both hold as the key to a meaningful life. As I continue to read this week, it occurs to me that perhaps I was not actually looking for a book for my friend, but rather for myself. For many years I have hunted ravenously for books to teach me, to elevate my performance in parenting, doctoring, leading. But Aunt Rachel’s books simply soothe me. They acknowledge and give credence to that still small voice that advocates and validates the need for deep personal connection, in a world that values it less and less.
I wonder if reading Aunt Rachel’s books so early in my career helped me more than I knew. Looking back on the past decade, I feel proud to have resisted the pressure of 15 minute clinic visits, to have made the effort to relate as personally as I could with every patient, even if my bids were rejected. Aunt Rachel’s books honor that heart center in me that holds true to what I value the most, which is connection with people. Perhaps I have her to thank for watering the strongest, deepest roots of my doctor soul before they could dry up and later require excavation to revive?
I still think my friend will enjoy Aunt Rachel’s book. Her stories resonate with the humanity in all of us, not just doctors and patients. I look forward to hearing his feedback, and finding more books to share. And I must remember to bless our friendship.
May we all acknowledge and share the blessings in our lives, every chance we get.