Paying it forward: heroines, sung and unsung

At our IMPACT 2014 conference in Boston, I had the opportunity to attend the PA Foundation’s PAramount awards dinner. This year’s guest speaker was Heather Abbott, a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. more»

Interested readers can now peruse my latest Musings blog — Paying it forward: heroines, sung and unsung — at the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) website.

JAAPA is the official publication of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Catch me up in your story

Remarks at the recent wedding of a son and daughter-in-law.

The Irish have a saying: “A son is a son ’til he takes a wife; but a daughter’s a daughter all of your life.”

I don’t look upon this occasion as the loss of a son, but rather as the gain of a beautiful daughter.

A line from one of the songs we sang this morning caught my eye: “Catch me up in your story. Catch me up in your story.”

We are gathered here in this place on this day to celebrate Joshua and Kerra, the beginning of their new life together. Some of you have come from close by; others have come from far away. There are those from New England and those from Taiwan; those from Connecticut and those from Georgia; those from Hartford and those from Dallas. As individuals you hail from far and wide; but as a group you have assembled here, if only for a short while, to show your love and support for Joshua and Kerra.

Some of you I have met before; some of you I wouldn’t recognize if I passed you in the street. Some of you I know intimately well; others, hardly at all. Yet one thing I can say with confidence about each and every one of you: that you bring your unique life story to this place.

Each of us is part of an extended family of some sort, and each family has its own set of stories to tell. As for me, I could tell you some pretty good ones. I’m certain that you know some pretty good ones, too.

Stories are the glue that binds folks together in relationship. Some stories are funny, some are sad; some are uplifting, and others are tragic. Stories are the narratives that give structure to our lives. Without stories our existence would become a mere calendar of daily appointments and activities. It is through our stories that we come to know one another; it is through stories that we invite one another into our personal lives, to become a part of them.

Today I was thinking of a family photograph, one in which Josh and Ian are little boys, sitting on the porch of their grandparents’ house. Josh is sitting in Ian’s lap; Ian’s arms encircle his brother’s waist. Their hair sparkles in the sun, their eyes twinkle and there are big smiles on their faces.

What you don’t see in the photo are other sets of arms, the ones holding both of them, the arms of their mother and me, the arms of their Grandma and Grandpa — arms which encircle and hold, arms that shelter and protect, arms that offer comfort and security. Those are the arms which they depended upon for support when they were growing up.

And now for Josh and Kerra there will be new sets of arms, arms to have and to hold, arms to shelter and protect, arms to offer comfort and security. Two in relationship are better than one; for if they fall, the one will lift the other up.

Most of us will not remember what was said here this day, but all of us will recall this day, the day when Joshua and Kerra invited us, their dear friends and families, to gather together to celebrate this new beginning of their story. Through the vows they have taken they have invited each to be caught up in the story of the other; and we who have been caught up in their story will always be a part of it, and a part of them.

Rainy day rendezvous

The dining room at the Dimmick Inn is packed on this mid June weekday afternoon. The waitress has found a table for my friend and his daughter and me in the back room. She’s taken our orders, brought us our drinks; soon our dinners will arrive. My friend and I have ordered our traditional fish and chips; his daughter has selected chicken fingers and fries. Meantime, we’re busy talking, making the most of our annual one-day rendezvous in this sleepy northeastern Pennsylvania town.

Today our discussions have revolved around medical practice, specifically the difficulties we’ve each been experiencing over the course of the past several years. My friend is a hospitalist, practicing in the southwest; I work in primary care in the northeast. Despite the differences in practice settings, the challenges we face remain remarkably similar in scope.

There’s the issue of the rapidly changing medical workplace with its inherent land mines. We seem to be badgered by administrators, inundated with patients, immersed in unsupportive work environments. Moreover, despite our decades of experience, our jobs remain tenuous. Over the span of the past 3 years each one of us has had to change jobs, working less desirable hours. As you approach the end of your career, you like to think that things might get a bit easier; but neither one of us has found that to be the case.

A little girl listens intently to our words while chewing her chicken fingers and fries. For a youngster of 7 years she has behaved very well over the course of the morning; but children can only put up with so much grown-up jargon. She begins to vie for her father’s attention; she whispers something in his ear. Finally she reaches up and attempts to hold his lips together with her small hands to corral the conversation.

The waitress returns to check on our progress. She offers a dessert menu, but the little girl declines. When 7-year-old girls decline dessert, you know it is time to go.

We banter briefly over the check; we gather our wraps and step out onto the veranda. The rain has tapered off. My friend negotiates one more walk with his daughter through the wet streets before closing out the day.

“Why don’t we go to the little park?” my friend says.

“I don’t want to go to the park,” the girl pouts.

The father takes her gently by the hand, whispers something in her ear, and we head out.

The park is not far away. En route we discover a stand of toadstools at the base of an old tree.

“Look, fungi!” the little girl says.

“That’s right,” the father says. “Le’s take a picture of them, shall we?”

He bends down to take a photo. On the sidewalk across the street we encounter a cluster of broken walnut shells.

“Look, this one looks like a face!” the little girl says. “Oh, swings!” She runs to the bank of swings in the grassy park. “Push me high!” she says. “Give me an underdoggie!”

My friend pushes from behind and runs forward beneath the swing, catapulting the little girl high in the air; she squeals with delight.

Afterwards we stroll back to where our cars are parked. The past 6 hours have flown by. Now it is time to say goodbye.

“Thanks for helping to entertain her,” my friend says.

“The pleasure was all mine,” I say.

“Children teach us what’s truly important in life, don’t they?”

Slowly, I nod my head.

Mine are all grown up now. This year my youngest will turn 30.

But I still remember that mad rush of delight when I pushed them on the swing in the park.

A gentle rain

“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.” –Thoreau in “Spring,” Walden

Up early, out for a walk under overcast skies, the overarching dome uniformly grey.

I set out on my usual circuit up to the heights. It wasn’t long before I felt the first drops of rain, the quality not unlike a “gentle dew from heaven.”

At first I berated myself for not having brought an umbrella; but then I had the thought that if the rain continued in its present form, I should not get soaked to the skin; and if it accelerated enough to soak me through, I would strip off my clothing when I returned home and enjoy a hot shower to counter the chill.

I picked up the pace during my ascent of the hill, conscious of the new drops dotting the macadam. A catbird mewed from a stand of dense bushes as I passed by, while overhead a chipping sparrow chatted from a high wire. Further up the road a mockingbird rehearsed his repertoire from the top of a tall spruce. Bird calls — indeed, sounds of any kind — are always accentuated in a close morning.

The valley lay in a fine mist at my feet, its green shades muted in the grey light.

As I descended the hill, the rain picked up a bit; but here I had the advantage of strolling along beneath the trees where the path was still dry. A solitary mosquito buzzed at my ear; I lifted a hand to brush him away. Were it not for the rain, the mosquitoes would be out in force; and I counted myself fortunate indeed to have the gentle rain for a morning companion on my walk.

As I made the turn at the end of the cul-de-sac, the rain fell with more force. I picked up the pace and ascended the hill, taking advantage once again of the overhanging trees for shelter.

And so I picked my way along the street toward home, my clothing somewhat damp, but not my spirits. At home I could sit on the front porch alone with my thoughts and watch the rains descend.

“The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house to-day is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too…

“In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops…

“Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.”

–Thoreau in “Solitude,” Walden