Sunday, February 24, 2013

tethered perspective

One of the key advantages of being a member of the helping profession is the opportunity afforded to observe closely, the breadth and depth of all sorts of human experience. Like peering at the whale of humanity from the bottom of the ocean, the underbelly swimming above, far off floating silhouette of your long lost boat, the murky dark edges do appear to go on forever.

I think I get why this perspective could make you feel anxious and sad all at once.

Or hanging upside down in the cave of bats while the blood rushes to your head, I think I get why it feels especially difficult to think and your throbbing head feels as if it might explode. In the sacred context of the doctor patient relationship, I often find myself on a journey outside of my own perspective, led around vicariously through dark experiences, by my patients.

Most of the time, I can’t help but come away from this sacred space a little bit transformed. Sitting with wounded people, my own perspective often has to expand to hold the space for things percolating beneath the surface of polite conversation, the place where you’re frightened of the dark, or scared of bears, and the monsters under the bed try to grab your feet when you dive under the covers as the lights go off. I feel privileged every time I step softly into this psychic space with my patients.

The oft cited words of my mentor echo, Your patients will teach you much if you allow the space for it.  I remember thinking before graduating that Obi Wan Kenobi was just trying to make me feel more ready for the shift to being a physician. He’s just trying to make me feel better as I’m lambasted with graduation and that overwhelming sense that levels most of us new doctors in a sea of feeling as if we really know absolutely nothing.

He’s trying to make me feel better about cutting the educational, umbilical cord.

The truth is my patients do teach me much. Every day. They teach with their individual perspectives on their collectively similar tragedies. Everybody bleeds this way, just the same.

Sometimes I think doing this helping work is a bit like living a bunch of different lives simultaneously. I walk around with a rolodex of others' experiences in my head. I hear the talk of people sitting around the table, walled in by their own narrow perspective, trapped by assumptions or stories they've told themselves for years. It can't be otherwise. He must not even care.

I realize I'm no different in telling myself stories. But, I get the gift of sitting regularly with the heavyhearted. I get the opportunity of gaining insight by being absent from my own perspective for a while, then returning. I get to be an astronaut drifting in space, looking freshly at the blue and green earth swirls. The Overview Effect its been called. My own story smacks me in the face in a new way. Gifts I didn’t see before stare back at me. Things taken for granted assault me.

I didn’t really have it all that bad. In fact, things were mostly, good in my childhood. My life is rich.

And sometimes the perspective transformation, the blinding re-entry burns a bit more radically and I’m left tumbling my way back into the atmosphere to some sort of spirituality that makes sense of experiences so far from my own. I have to rely on the bells that have stopped jingling from my ankles, praying that the tether to Big Oak Tree on the edge of the forest somehow holds well enough for someone to pull me back and help me land.

Monday, February 18, 2013

weeping at the moon
artwork by Raina Gentry

I don’t know why I sit here tears dripping, under the moon. Crickets scratching their legs, the sound of the freeway in the distance. I have no reason to be sad. No badness of a day, no complete and utter failures, nothing went all that wrong, today. In fact, things went mostly right.

I haven’t really thought of my brother in a long time, even thinking of him now, that’s not it.

Instead, there’s the cool night air, Seussian silhouettes all around.

Looking up into the sky, halo around the moon’s fullness, little dark spots on it’s circle, I feel something, I know not what. And that something feels like sadness. And I have no idea why I’m weeping at the moon.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

cold as it gets

When my soul aches singer-songwriter Patty Griffin often has ways of capturing apt expression of that ache. This song feels about right, now.

To the end of the earth
I’ll search for your face
For the one who laid all of our beauty to waste
Threw our hope into heaven
Our children to the fire
I am the one who crawled through the wire
I am the one who crawled through the wire.

There’s a million sad stories
On this side of the road
Strange how we all just got used to the blood
Millions of stories that’ll never be told
Silent and froze in the mud
Silent and froze in the mud.

I know a cold as cold as it gets
I know darkness that’s darker than cold
A wind that blows as cold as it gets
Blew out the light of my soul
Blew out the light of my soul.

I dream in my sleep, 
I dream in my days
Some sunny street now so far away
Where up in a window
A curtain will sway
And you and I’ll meet down below
You and I’ll meet down below.

I know a cold as cold as it gets
I fight a war I may never see won
I live only to see
You live to regret
Everything that you’ve done
Everything that you’ve done
Everything that you’ve done.

-Patty Griffin