Friday, May 07, 2010


"Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth becasue one we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters." Thus wrote Scott Peck in his work The Road Less Travelled. I would not say that my life is particularly difficult, far from it really. Like you, I have friends and aquaintances who have survived or are currently living through hellacious trials. In particular, I have two friends whose children are sick with diseases which may them within the next 6 months or 16th birthday. I cannot conceive of the grief and pain that such a burden must be for them. Obviously, life can be punctuated with periods of great pain and anguish, which are tempered by periods of joy and elation.

As we raise little Gunner, I see just how much inner dampening of our emotions happens as we age. He has no filters or coping mechanisms to suppress rage, fear, grief, sadness, joy, and exuberance. As a consequence, he throws tantrums, and two minutes later gives us a hug while belly laughing. He feels the full spectrum of unfiltered emotion. I think he is acutely aware of how vulnerable he is in the world, because to be 18 months old is to be utterly powerless. I recall as a child my mother would tell me that adolescents think they are immortal. As a teen myself, I recalled those words, but never felt myself immortal, but perhaps invulnerable and supremely confident in my own strength and intelligence. As a parent myself I realize now that nobody is spared heartache and pain and that my invulnerability of adolescence was an illusion founded in ignorance. Now that I have friends who have survived tragedy the fact that Bad Things can happen is more real than it used to be 10 years ago.

Though there is pain and hardship in life, there are occaisionally moments of perfection as well. In popular psychology this is known as "flow", but as a rower, my coaches identified this concept as "swing". In rowing this would be those all too rare moments when the boat was perfectly balanced, when everyone was concentrated on their technique, the boat was surging smoothly through the water and bubbles from the bow-wave were audible under the hull. Time slows down, physical pain may be present but is irrelevant, and for a few brief minutes, there is perfection. Inevitably the spell is broken and we return to the real world where things break and don't go according to plan. As Scott Peck elucidates in The Road Less Travelled, these moments are the exception, rather than the rule, although we frequently lead our lives as though the reverse were true, and that any deviation from perfection is the aberration.

Where do I find swing? There are times when biking when my feet turn effortlessly despite intense exertion and the pedal stroke is smooth and perfectly round, the bike is rolling as though pushed by a tailwind. Downhill skiing is the perfect mixture of danger and concentration that allows me to swing. Recently I have found it in brief moments while inline skating. And professionally, I have experienced during my anesthesia rotations. I am not a very emotive person, but there have been times during these last two rotations where things felt as "right" as they did when my lightweight men's four man shell was perfectly balanced and slicing through the water. Since I have never yet felt this way during any of my other rotations, I can say that anesthesia is definitely for me, without reservation.


Matt and Christy said...

Thank you. I needed that.

lulu said...

I loved this post Spiff. It's got to feel good to be so sure and confident about something, especially your career. Way to go!

Dan's mom said...

We understand on a deeper level that life is meant to have trials -they are necessary. But we are also meant to have joy and experience it fully. It is those moments of joy and the hope of more joy to come that carry us through the pain and struggle. We are also counseled to become as little children, so there must be something to be learned from watching little ones acquire new skills. Would we, as adults, ever learn to walk if we crashed/failed as often as toddlers do? Their shear joy in learning a new skill keeps them moving forward. I think we need to keep ourselves as open and unguarded to the joy of learning as they do.

Congratulations on finding the medical field of practice that best suits your temperment and skill set. I knew you would.