Friday, April 26, 2013

More than useless

It seems like I write this same post at least once every year. 

It comes upon me suddenly: no triggering event, no life changing moment, no existential crisis…  Out of nowhere, it just hits me that I have not done nearly enough. 

We all have met those people whose list of good deeds is a mile long.  They make you feel that if the world had a few more people like them, then it would be such a better place.  Or, if you’re at all like me, they cause you to criticize yourself. What have I done that matters? 

I have big dreams.  I want to open a clinic in Africa.  I want to treat sick people and make them better, happier and healthier. 

Africa isn’t a requirement.  I have always loved El Salvador.  Then again, everything I have ever read from Paul Farmer gives me a passion for Haiti.  I’ve seen some pretty desolate faces in The Philippines.  I have read about the horrors in the Congo.  There could always be more doctors in India.  

I don’t know where I want to go… but I know I want to go somewhere and make things better. 

Whenever this comes up in conversation, as it tends to (surprisingly often!), people like to point out that I could stay here, in the U.S. and still achieve my dream.  There are certainly people here who could benefit from free healthcare. Wouldn’t I rather do that?

In a word, no. 

My vision is unconventional, I have been told.  It’s not proper and it is certainly not the American dream.  I'm not expecting to find a nice house or early retirement.  One of its many draws is that it would be a challenge.  It would be a step outside of my comfort zone.  It would be an adventure. 

It would also be a sacrifice.  If I were to have kids, would I bring them? Wherever  I end up, I don’t expect the school system to be a high selling point for the area.  That doesn’t seem fair… to deprive my potential children of the same opportunities I was given. 

Whenever I fall in love with a new place, it is usually because I’m reading a horribly sad book or news story about it.  While reading The Fear, (by Peter Godwin) in the middle of a fit of tears, I informed my husband that we were going to someday live in Zimbabwe.  I was crying with disgust for the violence that the world at large has turned its back on.  I was crying with sadness for the people forced to live in such a place simply because they had the bad luck to be born there and the inability to get out.  My husband politely informed me that we would not be going to such a place.  I suppose we will just have to see how that plays out…

Zimbabwe has a special place in my heart because it broke my heart.  It also shattered my apathy.  I want to do something.  I’m not a politician, economist, or foreign correspondent who can enact change on a global level, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I can’t do something.

Except, I feel like I can’t.  Not right now.  Sure, I look forward to living out my dream… someday.  What about now?  How am I making the world a better place right now?   How can I fit that into studying…?

To be honest, I really haven’t.  I wish I felt better about it; that it is okay to be fully focused on school right now, because that’s what I need to do.  Most days, my lengthy to-do list is enough to keep me fully distracted from the things I should be doing.  But, on nights like tonight… I know I would rather be somewhere else, doing something that matters. 

I will someday do good for others and hopefully make the world a better place in some small way… Until then, I guess I’m just waiting and hoping that I’ve cast my lot in the correct path, that will one day allow me to do good enough. Enough good. 

Earlier, I mentioned those people who make you feel like you haven’t really made any impact with your life.  The person who inspired that feeling tonight isn’t that much older than me, but already she has touched the lives of thousands of people through her orphanage. 

She went on a mission trip as a young teenager and fell in love with the country she visited.  She returned multiple times and ultimately moved there to open a children’s home: Amor y Esperanza. (For the Spanish challenged, that’s “Love and Hope”).

Anyways, her story is not mine to tell.  You can find out more about it at this website

What I admire most about that children’s home, was that it was a family more than an institution.  In my two short visits there, it was obvious that every child was loved immensely.  Each one knew that they were special and that they mattered.  Even the staff, the visitors… every one in that place felt loved, welcomed and understood. 

I am afraid that I am not very good at that.

Another one of my eventual goals is to adopt.  (This one, I have no issues with postponing until school is over though!). There are so many children in the world who haven’t felt what it is like to have a solid family who loves them.  What I am afraid of with adoption is that I won’t be good at it… That I won’t be able to make that child feel like they mean the whole world to me, even though they do.  

To be honest, I don’t know if I do a good job of that with anyone in my life.  There are so many people whom I treasure dearly, and I don’t know if I adequately show that.  I make it a point to tell people that I love them… (My husband, family and friends that is, not just random people.) But, do I show them?

A pattern among my blog posts seems to be posing questions for which I don’t have an answer.  Writing this didn’t gain me any ground in that regard, but it did serve as a reminder: this is how I intend to make the world a better place.

I have a broken heart and passion to fix things.  I want to make sick people healthy.  I want to make broken hearts whole.   I so easily get bogged down in the rigors of daily life, depressed with the seemingly endless nature of my chosen path, and distracted by a countless number of things.  When those things darken my outlook, its refreshing to pause and reflect on where I someday hope to be.

For a blog that mentions medical school in the title, I talk about it very little… So for those of you who are wondering, this is why I chose to go to medical school. 

I feel like, I would like 
To be somewhere else doing something that matters 
And I'll admit here, while I sit here 
My mind wastes away and my doubts start to gather  
Whats the purpose? 
It feels worthless 
So unwanted like I've lost all my value 
I can't find it, not in the least bit,  
and I'm just scared, so scared that I'll fail you  

And sometimes I think that I'm not any good at all 
And sometimes I wonder why, why I'm even here at all 
But then you assure me I'm a little more than useless 

And when I think that I can't do this 
You promise me that I'll get through this 
And do something right 
Do something right for once
- Relient  K, "Something That Matters"

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Today was my last day of school... kind of

I have decided to jump on the bandwagon with a cliché post about the last day of school.  If it doesn’t seem cliché to you, then you must be fairly well removed from the University of Toledo College of Medicine class of 2015.  Otherwise, you would have seen the plethora of blog posts, status updates, tweets and pictures on Instagram.  Today marks the end of an era for us – can you tell we’re excited?

For me personally, this is a mile marker in a 21 year journey.  As I was quite advanced as a child, my mother started me in preschool at the age of 2.  (She might not use the words “quite advanced”… perhaps she would say something along the lines of “highly energetic” or “shy to the point of a social disorder” or “she and her brother painted the kitchen floor green”….) For whatever reason, I was forced out of my “comforting” home environment into the world to obtain knowledge. 

It didn’t seem like a big deal then.  I didn’t know I was embarking on such a long journey. It was a minor occurrence. One day, my parents took me shopping bought be a fancy bag that I could wear on my back, some crayons and started talking about all the fun I was going to have.  In my opinion, it’s a trick - your parents make it seem exciting: “A bus full of other kids is going to come, and carry you off to this awesome land where your time will be filled by coloring, naps and snack time.  It’s going to be great, promise.” 

Perhaps it’s because they are just trying to keep it together themselves...  They don’t explain the gravity of the situation, because they are struggling to face it on their own.  After all, they are adults – they have seen how this story ends.  They know that upon boarding that yellow bus (with 38 other screaming children and a sole, outnumbered adult whom they pity deeply), you are embarking on a journey that will ultimately change who you are, how you think, where you live, what you do.  It must be a pretty emotional moment… That’s why they don’t tell you that it won’t always be crayons and graham crackers. They don’t tell you that the courses get harder, the teachers get more demanding, and that eventually, even nap time is taken away!  

It’s a one-way road.  You can’t exactly avoid it.  So, as a kid, you accept blindly and hop on.  Even though the whole idea seems a bit absurd at the time. 

Have you ever been on a long car trip where you get onto a new road and your GPS announces “Continue for 243 miles.”.  You can almost hear her heaving a sigh of relief… “Well, I got this girl on track, time for a coffee break”.

My point is that as children, we missed the beginning.  There was no momentous moment where we realized that our path would be pretty stable for the next 20-some years.  That’s why we are so excited about the ending! For my entire life up to this point, my time has been relatively centered around a schedule of classes, list of requirements and pending exams.  Suddenly, I’m in a post class-schedule world… full of freedom, hope and possibility!

Well, no.  That’s inaccurate… it’s full of studying, more studying, and preparing for school to resume after I take my boards exam in June. 

All in all, I haven’t accomplished much with my words here… I hoped to convey the feeling that my whole life is about to change, that I’m excited, that it’s surreal, that I’m a little nostalgic. Of all these mixed emotions I feel, the most unlikely one is bubbling to the surface… I’m going to miss shopping for school supplies each fall.

When I was two, I was scared.  I held my mom’s hand and I looked back at her, just to make sure she was really positive this was where I was supposed to be.  I am twenty-three now, and I’m still scared.  My parents support me so much, but they’re not close enough to hold my hands.  It’s okay though, cause at least now, I am positive that this is where I am supposed to be.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Susie!

For some reason, after writing last night… All I have been thinking about all day is when I’m going to post again.  Please note, I have not been thinking of great ideas for content, just timing.  Oh well, I’m going to run with it anyways. 

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite people in the world.  Not one of the favorite people who made the list in my “most valued possessions” post.  This favorite person belongs to a group composed entirely of my favorite people – my family. 

Of course, everyone loves his or her family.  Everyone thinks their family is the best, and just about everyone I have come into contact with thinks their family is crazy… That is, of course, until they meet mine!  All it takes is a few anecdotes about the table catching on fire during thanksgiving dinner, or any story that starts with “So, we were playing ‘Oh, Hell!’…” and the person with whom I’m discussing the subject starts politely nodding and mentally deciding that perhaps their own family isn’t so bad after all. 

Susie was my maid of honor and gave a toast that rapidly laid out pretty much all the dirt she had gained on me in the previous 23 years.  At Susie’s wedding, there was not really a good moment to elaborate on all of our “exciting” times together, but now I have these anecdotes, so I suppose today is a good time to use ‘em!  Happy Birthday, Susie!

Although we all like to think she is good at heart, Susie has lived her life in such a way to make it clear to others that typical rules and societal norms don’t apply to her… I think one of the more widely approved stories to support this idea involves Grandma. 

Although I was much too young to remember this story first hand (and possibly not even present) it lives on in infamy and has been retold to the extent that I feel comfortable sharing it here.  She was young (albeit, old enough to know better), and she and her sister were visiting Grandma’s house.  Our Grandma’s cookies are without a doubt, the best the world had to offer at the time.  Although willing to dole them out as we wished, Grandma kept these cookies on top of her fridge, lest our parents object to the raging monsters we became when we ate as much sugar as we desired.  The insurmountable height to the top of the fridge was enough to make retrieving the cookies a chore for our very short grandmother.  So, it was believed that infiltrating this defense mechanism was well beyond the capabilities of any of the grandchildren.  One day, Susie decided that she would do the impossible.  She would obtain the cookies.  However, a problem stood in her way.  Grandma had said no.  From time to time, this sort of thing would happen.  Pressured by our parents, she would have to deny us the little bundles of heaven we so desperately wanted. But, she was Grandma.  She was sacred.  She could say no and we would listen.  Most of us, anyways.  Not Susie… Not that day.  She defiantly scaled the counter, scaled the refrigerator, to find herself amidst a rooftop paradise.  A cornucopia of cookies so delicious and plentiful that were hers to eat.  Grandma of course, objected.  She objected vociferously. However, at her small stature somewhere below five feet… she was limited to verbal objections, to which Susie was clearly immune. 

Another representative anecdote of her disregard for societal expectations could be the time she made a U-turn in the middle of a road. In a downtown metropolis.  That road was also on a bridge and under construction.  Despite the middle finger we got from a woman who easily could have been on her way to teach Sunday school to her elderly peers, we survived. (And, as an added bonus, we know that her seatbelts are quite functional!)

There are so many more stories that need to be shared; for example, the time Susie was babysitting shortly after my parents had finished repainting the ceilings (who does that, anyways?!) and we managed to get black cherry Jell-o literally stuck to the ceiling… We had to get a step ladder to pull it down.  Of course, then we had to repeat the entire process when my brother, who had missed the first incident, didn’t believe us that Jell-o would stick to the ceiling.  So, we did it again, and a few more times after that just to make sure that our hypothesis was valid. 

There was also the time while she was babysitting us that one of my brother’s friends climbed a tree in the front yard.  He got pretty high, decided he was safe, and proceeded to mouth off to her.  His logic was: first, that babysitter won’t climb a tree to make me shut up, and second, she won’t risk injuring me because I’m a child.  He was right on the first count, but wrong on the second.  Susie went to the house, got the hose and the sprayer nozzle (good thing Dad is into gardening or else her weapon of choice may not have been nearly as effective) and simply hosed him out of the tree.  She sprayed him until he lost his grip and fell.  (He was fine but definitely less mouthy after the experience!)

When I was little, Susie was one of those people I always looked up to.  She made me laugh, even if it meant getting in trouble and always followed her own rules.  She speaks what is on her mind, almost to a fault.  She showed me that you can be yourself and count on people to love you anyways… if they don’t, it’s their loss.  I have seen her go through some really crappy situations, and she has always handled them with grace and dignity (besides the punk kid in the tree, obviously). 

If you read this, Susie, I hope it is a good enough birthday card.  At the very least, it has to be better than the one my mother sent you last year and forgot to write in…  Way to keep the expectations low!  I hope your birthday was wonderful and that your husband spoiled you!  On behalf of everyone who is lucky enough to know you… please do not consume any Starbucks today.  You scare us.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What would you say if you knew hundreds of people were listening?

Well, I should be studying, sleeping or a million other things.  What else is new.

Have you seen the new meme circulating, the one which includes, in the top panel, a picture of the bomb going off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon two days ago with a caption reading “Bomb goes off, Bomber Blamed”. In the bottom panel, there is a very famous photo of the children walking away from the school with their teacher in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting; it is captioned “School Shooting, Guns Blamed”.  

I’ll try to include it here (did it work?!), but if I can’t, everyone reading this should be able to picture the image I am talking about (which, when I’m posting this has already over 150 thousand likes on Facebook).

The image is being circulated, to my understanding, to make the point that guns (like bombs) are inanimate objects utilized by people to commit horrific crimes.  Generally, this message is being preached by people who are pro-gun rights.  Typically, the caption shared with the picture points out the flawed logic: it does not make sense to blame an inanimate object in one instance and a perpetrator in another. 

There is another example “flawed logic” with this image.  First of all, both events are tragedies.  While it is true that in the current day and age images rapidly go viral, and come to represent moments in history to a huge number of people; this is not the same as making a meme of these images less than two days after three people were killed and one hundred seventy five injured in a senseless act of violence.  (

An equally accurate meme would read, on the top panel: “Bomb goes off. This world is a terribly depressing and sad place.”.  The bottom panel: “School shooting.  This world is a terribly depressing and sad place.”.  At least we all can agree on that now, thanks to bombs, bombers, guns, gunmen and so on and so on.

In both pictures, the major focus is on people affected by the violence.  I can see the effects of the bomb, but not the bomb itself.  I can see the terror caused by the gun, but not the gun itself. The children who are captured in this image will have mental, emotional and psychological consequences of that day for the rest of their lives.  Is it really necessary to use them to make fun of a poor argument for gun legislation? Pictures of victims of crimes are not fair targets for memes or political agendas. Period.

I understand the point that the meme is trying to make but it is being made in a horribly tasteless and cold way. 

I wonder if the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 had happened today, would people be instagraming the towers as they fell? #sosad? 

Its as though instagram, facebook, pinterest, twitter, memes, and every other form of social media (that I’m sure my brother in his infinite knowledge of technology could rattle off) allow us to detach ourselves from the world around us rather than engage in it further.  Photography is a powerful art, and pictures of that day can still bring tears to my eyes.  Somehow, I doubt they would if they were made into a meme or shared on instagram. 

It seems as though my generation has forgotten that all of these social networking phenomena, are exactly that – networks. For many of us, they are more public than anything else we will ever do.  I have 530 friends on facebook.  (I had to check that before including it).  That means that whenever I share something on my facebook, at least 530 people have the potential to see it.  To be honest, 530 is a low estimate.  We all know how it works, you’re just scrolling through facebook and suddenly you’ve ended up looking at old pictures of someone that you met… once… at that thing…  It happens to the best of us.  Anyways, when I share something, I’m not thinking about the hundreds of people who could see it.  I’m thinking about what I want to say, right then.  After all, it is MY facebook post.

However, if I had the opportunity to speak to a room of hundreds of people, I’d spend months obsessing over what I was going to say. I’d make sure my diction was perfect, my message clear. So, why should social media be any different? 

Another pet peeve of mine lately has been the countless repostings of the image comparing the Dove “real beauty campaign” to the Victoria’s Secret “love my body campaign”. The trend has been to post the image and then state how much more attractive the women are in one campaign or the other. 

If you were in a room full of these women, would you feel comfortable organizing them into an ugly group and a pretty group? I would hope that the answer is no.  Generally, it is considered rude to call people ugly (even if it is by implication when you say that someone else is pretty).   So why is it suddenly okay to do this online?  Is it because they are models getting paid to be attractive?

I get paid to be a good student. It would not hurt my feelings any less if people told me I wasn’t a good student. 

The general point of the image is that beauty comes in more shapes and sizes (than either campaign properly illustrates). The point should be to teach girls that you can feel beautiful in your own body.  That applies to girls who are fat, girls who are skinny, girls who are models and girls who are not.  It’s going to be awfully difficult to do this, while posting this image. 

Obviously, no one is going to completely sensor their social media persona.  I guess, if you did that, there is no real reason to engage in social media at all… My point is this: you are accountable for what you put out there.  You aren’t anonymous.  In fact, more people probably know you by how you represent yourself on social media than how you actually are in real life.  Which one is the person you genuinely want to be?