Anew

Can it really be six months since I last wrote? There is this perpetual sense of the days and weeks and months tumbling out of my hands like so many marbles covered in margarine. They cannot be grasped. I keep trying to send down an anchor, to carve out a quiet homestead for myself in the wilds of all the things that must or could or should be done. If I just get the house organized, I am always thinking to myself, then it’ll all fall into place. Meanwhile things both large and small are happening: Residency ended and I started a new job. We bought a house and moved into it. C has a stable job situation for this year and we’re the most relaxed we’ve been since before I started medical school. We’ve been eating lots of salad and going for walks together and instead of me collapsing into an insensate, dreamless sleep at 8pm and C working until midnight every night to make up for the long days of solo parenting, we go to bed together and it’s the sweetest. Last Friday, I got home at 8pm after a wonderful, tiring second week of being an attending and E and I had a rocking dance party courtesy of YouTube. It was the first time in a long while that I completely forgot myself in the moment. I was just a body and a smile and a beating heart. We spun and spun and spun around each other. C was watching — the perpetual sole audience member for our crazy dances — and I did a little (extremely tame) strip tease for her which mainly consisted of removing my stethoscope and hospital badge. The song “Uptown Funk” came on, which we used to time compressions during CPR simulations in the ED, and there it all was: love and sex and death and all the extreme things I have witnessed and the crazy privilege of being there for others at the borderlines of life and the feeling of having no escape from the intensity of that. And, since I’m a parent and a pediatrician, running through it all, the awesome sense of responsibility for the gift of a child, and the pleasure in it.

It’s been a puzzling time. Things have unequivocally improved: I’m working so many fewer hours. I’m getting paid more. I have more time with my family. I enjoy my job. But I’m still waking up in the morning with a sore jaw and a sore neck from the worries that don’t sleep. There’s this new anxiety that stems from not being in survival mode all the time. During residency, I was just trying to make it through. I didn’t expect much of the months: Just to do a good job at my job and to take some delight in my family. If money ran out before the next paycheck, there was a credit card and a nod to some future pay-off. Now, there are so many things I want to do, so many ways I want to be better, so many thirsty parts of myself that haven’t been watered in so long. After three years of chronic pain, my body is in desperate need of concerted attention. I want to be more involved in all the communities I belong to. I want to write more and build out a professional niche for myself that feels authentic. I want to feel like I have some control over my finances. I want to finally get better at keeping up with email and be much more organized. I feel accountable to myself in a new way and so, oddly, though everything is better, I’m feeling more pressured and anxious and distracted than before. I’m expecting more of myself than is reasonable. It’s harder to put down my smart phone. It’s harder to just be at the table with my family. It’s harder to just sit on the couch with E and play Dinosaur Family. I’m finding it harder to just be. I’m having to relearn how to live in long arcs and it’s not going smoothly quite yet.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which this year has coincided with the beginning of fall, though the calendar won’t catch up for a few weeks. It was legitimately cool this morning. For the first time in a while I had to run back into the house to grab a long-sleeved shirt for E. The house has fallen quiet in the absence of all the fans and air conditioning that have kept us going and the air coming in through the windows has a point to make: the circle is about to turn again. There is something so comforting about the changing of the seasons, about another Rosh Hashanah, about another chance to be made new again. When I was young, the promise of Rosh Hashanah was the opportunity to reinvent myself. Now that I’m older, it’s more about the opportunity to reinvest. We spent the evening last night with friends from our neighborhood — our gaggle of five kids were running around shrieking with delight — and I could feel the roots we have been working to put down wending their way into the soil. Amidst the swirl of my usual worries about how to fulfill on my potential in this life, I had the sense that the answers are close at hand.

For someone who does not quite believe in God — at least not as traditionally defined — I have quite a potent response to attending synagogue. It’s all I can do while I’m there to keep from weeping. There are lots of reasons — the comfort of the familiar, the opportunity to reflect — but I think the main thing is that when I’m there, I feel like part of something, both in now time and in historical time. Lots of people have sung these songs, are singing these songs, will sing these songs. I hold hands with E as much as she’ll let me in synagogue and I can feel all the love that went into my creation flowing through me and into her. It helps that I attend about the warmest, funkiest, most progressive, most diverse synagogue imaginable where you can wear your sneakers if you want and it’s ok if your kid whispers “Is it lunchtime yet?” during the silent prayer.

At today’s services, there were five aliyot — five readings from the Torah scroll. Before each reading, a different group of people was invited to come up to offer a blessing and receive a blessing. First, there were the families who had welcomed babies in the previous year. They scraggled to the front, their little ones in carriers, in arms, in someone else’s arms. How could I not weep for them, for all the joy and the challenge of it, and for the hope for the future that is contained in the decision to bring new life into the world? Then there was an aliyah for people experiencing an ending, and one for people experiencing a beginning. How, I wondered, can one category not contain the other? But you could tell that the people who chose to mark an ending — mostly people mourning loved ones — were different from those who were marking a beginning — mostly newlyweds. You could feel the warmth of the congregation embracing them both. Then the fourth Aliyah was for people in need of healing, or praying for healing for others, or for those who work in healing professions, and given that all three categories apply to me, I decided to rise, and my mother also rose, for her own reasons, and E came with me because that’s how we roll. We gathered under a prayer shawl, surrounded by many others, and spoke the familiar blessing. I knew some of the other people up there from work — and I felt proud of them, proud of us, for all that we give of ourselves to heal others. After the Torah reading, the whole congregation sang a meditative prayer for healing — ana el na rafa na la  — the brief, poignant prayer that Moses spoke on behalf of his sister Miriam. Please God, please God, heal her. People called out the names of people who were in need of healing. I wanted to speak the names of all my little patients, who have had to start life by fighting for it, but of course I couldn’t because: HIPPA. So I just thought about them, their little fingers curled up around their breathing tubes.

In this world where people are killed because they are black and refugees are washing up on unwelcoming shores and millions of children die each year from diseases that vaccines could prevent and medicines could cure, it is a bit narcissistic to claim a spot amongst those who are in need of healing, but that’s how I’m feeling these days: not quite whole. So for me, this year is going to be about healing: healing myself, helping others heal, trying to heal the wounds of the world in the small ways that are available to me. May it be a good year. And it spite of all that is difficult, may it also be sweet. To quote a T-shirt that my mother wears: Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can and wine to accept the things I cannot change. And maybe some honey along the way.

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9 thoughts on “Anew

  1. Thank you for sharing these beautiful and sincere thoughts and experiences. Hopes for your healing and renewal ❤

  2. Dear M,

    I’ve been reading your blog since about a year ago and every time I see a new post from you I get goosebumps. I’m a first-year medical student in Houston (as well as an aspiring writer) and your writing is so, so beautiful, truly nourishing for the soul. Every time I read your posts I feel like I’ve been cleansed. I’m so happy to hear that your life has taken a calmer turn upon your finishing residency and starting life as an attending, and trust (as you write) that as your roots continue to wind down into the earth, you will begin to feel more whole. It’s hard to imagine myself at such a point – past residency – at least eight years down the road, but writing, and your writing, is one of the things that will sustain me along the way. Thanks for being an inspiration for the writer and student in me – I’m so looking forward to future updates, and to continue following you on your journey :).

    Love and light,
    Sally

    • Thank you so much for these kind words! I’m so touched — you made my day. I’m taking the peds boards tomorrow and your comment will be my good luck charm. I wish you so much luck and strength and — sometimes in the most inexplicable moments — joy in the path ahead.

      With much gratitude,
      M

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