I always wonder about you, dear reader. Where does this post find you, since we last connected? How are you?
It’s a good practice to check in with ourselves regularly. These nine weeks of sheltering in place have exercised my patience, awareness, and identity, among other things. What have they done for you? How are you?
For a couple weeks now I have felt all but overwhelmed by darkness. Infection and death rates have slowed, but they will continue to accumulate indefinitely. I worry that we will become inured, calloused, to the human toll. PPE is still in short supply at hospitals across the country. Thousands of my colleagues continue to risk both their physical as well as mental and emotional lives to care for gravely ill patients. They leave their families and support networks to become the sole supports for patients alone in the hospital, whose own loved ones may not visit, even in the hour of death.
Mostly I have felt burdened by the fighting. The shouting, protesting, mean memes, and ad hominem all around me, directed both by and at my friends and colleagues. Important reflections and insights arose this week that helped me see clearly the internal origins of my distress. I re-accepted and re-integrated these parts of myself. I was able to laugh out loud, exclaiming, “How fascinating!” I know I will necessarily repeat this discovery exercise ad nauseam, ad infinitum—such is life, karma says, also laughing. But for now I feel lighter, unburdened, more at peace.
So I thought about role models for peace. I feel so lucky to have so many. But one in particular shone in my consciousness this week: Dr. Vivek Murthy, our 19th Surgeon General. He has published a book, Together, in which he “makes a case for loneliness as a public health concern: a root cause and contributor to many of the epidemics sweeping the world today from alcohol and drug addiction to violence to depression and anxiety. Loneliness, he argues, is affecting not only our health but also how our children experience school, how we perform in the workplace, and the sense of division and polarization in our society.”
I recently watched a live interview with him conducted by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, widow of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, who wrote When Breath Becomes Air. I listened with one earbud, watching in my peripheral vision, while hurrying around my kitchen, preparing chicken and assembling a salad, all before rushing to host a Zoom workout. It struck me that in stark contrast to my frenetic energy at that moment, Dr. Murthy presented only calm and serenity. He answered every question with love, joy, conviction, and equanimity. I noticed and marveled. Then I rushed around some more and got on with my evening tasks.
Looking back, I have felt this serene and loving presence every time he speaks. He has a way of making everybody in the room comfortable, welcome, and included. Even if he’s interacting only with a moderator, it feels like he’s speaking to me personally. He sees me, he gets me. He cares about me. In searching for the Kalanithi interview, I came across this lecture and discussion he gave at Stanford University in 2015. I hope you will take the time to watch (or at least listen). Notice how he shares stories of his parents, his patients, and people he met during his national ‘listening tour’ at the beginning of his tenure as Surgeon General. Hear how he sees and knows every one of these people in their whole humanity. Abraham Verghese, physician, author of Cutting for Stone, and another hero of the profession, moderated the Q&A, and also named Dr. Murthy’s equanimity—his peacefulness. Notice how Murthy validates questions asked by students and faculty alike. Observe his humility, juxtaposed with a resolute, unwavering point of view. Do you feel it? Does he not inspire you to be a better person?
Dr. Murthy and his wife, Dr. Alice Chen, have written an open letter to us medical professionals, in the midst of this global pandemic. Reading it, once again I feel seen, understood, and comforted. I feel true belonging in a proud and humble tribe of professionals, committed to service. They shine their light on all of us, so we may see the path before us more clearly and walk more confidently, knowing we’ got our peeps holding us up. This, in turn, gives us the strength and love to hold up others along the way.
I see the light tonight. It emanates from my fellow and sister humans, and it saves me.
For a little more light, check out this Jon S. Randal Peace Page post with the picture of the penguins. In it you will read about gems like John Krazinski’s “Some Good News” YouTube series, and Chris LaCass, founder of Pandemic Kitchen, feeding New York City’s homeless. You can also share your own stories of inspiration and light in the darkness.
Where is your light today? How will you keep it in front, as we travel this long road together?