At the risk of being predictable, I am facing this abbreviated week of Thanksgiving with thoughts of gratitude. I am, of course, grateful for a lot of the things that many of us will give thanks for on Thursday: family, friends, the ability to create and make and do…the ability to love and be loved. All of those things are the cornerstone of any other thing, large or small, for which I am grateful, every day of the year.
But what I want to write about today is my endless gratitude for the work I do and the people who make it possible. The thing is, as I said in my very first post, I came to this work after a string of other roads chosen and choices made. I can look back at every job I’ve had, every interest I’ve pursued, and recognize now that they all moved me in baby-steps–sometimes sideways, sometimes backwards, but always moving– so that I could get out of my own way and do what I was intended to do.
The patients I have had the privilege to know are at the heart of my immeasurable gratitude. I want to say here, in my most public of communications, that I have infinite and unbounded gratitude and love for the people who have sat with me and shared their lives. For the wisdom, kindness, and humanity shared with me daily, I simply cannot ever say “thank you” enough. It is impossible, really, to express the ways in which they have shaped and impacted my life.
I have learned that fear is real but not defining. I have learned that mental illness does not have to keep a person from their own sense of brilliance and connection. I have learned that the very act of witnessing, of being seen and heard and loved makes us all more real. I have witnessed firsthand that the most simple demonstration of kindness–getting a straw for someone to make drinking water more possible or sitting with someone in a waiting room–can remind us of who we are, can unlock hearts and make moving through this life possible.
One of my patients years ago had opted to decline treatment. He taught me that declining treatment can mean living more fully for the time you have left. He woke each morning and made art. Cuddled with his dog, and took his grandchildren on “doughnut dates”. I am grateful for him.
Another of my patients, in constant pain with metastatic disease, literally danced in the speckled sunlight of the cancer center lobby. A rare day when her pain was minimal, where she could hear the song in her heart and dance. Catching my eye, she shimmered, an internal light brighter than the sun. She joked that she wished a “wizard” would bring his wand and cure her. We all wished the same. That day, she was her own form of magic, radiating love and gratitude. I am grateful for her.
Another gentleman, with long-term chronic disease who had fallen on hard times, had been living in his car…until it was impounded. He sat outside of stores and asked for money, sometimes being given tickets by police for doing so. He told me that maybe three people in a day would make eye contact with him, smile, or in any way help him remember that he was human and worthy and loved. To this day, I do not see someone asking for help who I don’t smile at, or speak briefly with. He helped make me more human, and how could I not feel grateful for that?
Once, I walked into a hospital room at a point when I was, on a personal level, absolutely vulnerable. I was breaking if not broken. The man sitting in the bed was fascinating. He told me all about his life and his story, and at one point took my hand. He examined the edges and angles and told me that I was strong beyond measure. Independent and resilient. He looked in my eyes and told me I was suffering, but to not forget who I was born to be. I will never forget him. He saw me when I couldn’t see myself. I am thankful.
I have had patients share their lives and their stories, their love and their fear, their kindness and wisdom on a daily basis for over a decade. In ways that it is hard for me to communicate, this work has not only shaped me, but it has saved my life. I hope for every person reading this, regardless of the work you do, or how you have chosen to use your days on this planet, that you have moments of affirmation and beauty as a result. I hope that each day that closes, each sun that sets, finds you more whole, more connected, more you than you were before.
From the bottom of my patched-up and ever-expanding heart, I thank you for reading, for being a part of my story, and I wish you the Happiest of Thanksgivings.