At the beginning of June I turned 40. And on the last day of the month the Pastor and I celebrated 17 years of marriage.
A few weeks prior to my birthday a good friend Jennifer asked me about my plans for the weekend. I wanted to have a party. She asked if I liked surprises. My response? “I don’t like to be disappointed.” So there’s that.
Jennifer was smart enough to know that even though I had big plans, my life is just too busy to execute any other big events. She is also just bossy enough to take over and plan something great. The best memories of my adulthood are moments when lots of people I really care about from the different aspects of my life are all having fun together. So we had a party. A big party; with music and food and dozens of friends….and it was totally worth it.
I have been alive for 40 years. I remember thinking that being 40 meant you had been alive forever! It has occurred to me that I have spent roughly half of my life in medicine. Studying, testing, learning, preparing, practicing. Twenty years of sleepless nights and long days and lots of restless moments. Twenty years sprinkled with memories of incredible joy and terrible tragedy. The profession of medicine can be a deep sea where the waters cover over you, and not just over your head but push you deeper and deeper down and into more than you intended. Some of those years were true immersion. Some years you manage to keep your head above water; and some you might even feel like you are riding the waves. This year I was surrounded by water. Completely immersed. It didn’t matter where I looked. Up, down, left and right as far as my eyes could see there was work to be done. And if you know anyone in medicine, when there is work to be done we do the work. And so I did.
My 40th birthday was an opportunity to lift my head above the waves and take a deep breath. I spent 5 whole days away from work. Not just away from the hospital and the office, but away form my computer. The Pastor was very concerned to see me detached from the laptop. In fact, he panicked and asked if I had left it at home on purpose. It was the first time in a long time I was away from email, away from charting, away from creating schedules, answering questions and solving problems.
The thing is, I don’t think we even realize how far immersed we are in the work until we come up for air. I suddenly found myself in the midst of conversations about books and parks and outings and all the rest of life. And I literally could not think of a single book I had read or a non-scheduled activity or even a day without work in the last few months. The opportunity to take a giant deep breath and put my head above the water and look around was both a moment of relief and a moment of sadness. You see, the work needed to be done. It still needs to be done. And I will continue to do the work. To get to thebottom of the to do list. To find a day when there are not problems to be solved, schedules to be made, charts to be completed or projects to be fleshed out.
The truth is that the work will never be done. But I can do better and be better balanced. As a part of our anniversary celebration, we went to see the documentary about the life and career of Mr. Rogers. One of Fred Roger’s lifelong virtues was to “love your neighbor AND yourself.” In my forty years of completed life, my 17 years of marriage and 20 years in medicine, I more than believe that you cannot love your neighbor if you do not love yourself well. And you cannot love
yourself if you do not know you are loved. Every Sunday as I sit by the Pastor on the front row we hear the phrase “God’s mind about you is made up. And the news is good.” What a great reminder that we are constantly and consistently loved. For me it is a reminder to have the birthday party, to celebrate with friends, to go see the movie, to play the game with the kids or take them to the park. To sleep in or be still and accomplish nothing on a rare day off.
We are at our best when we know we are loved and take the time to take care of ourselves. With so much bad news infiltrating our news feeds and our tv’s and radios these days it is critical that we remember we are loved and that we care for ourselves so in turn we can love and care for our neighbor. So in the next forty years I will try to live a more balanced life. Take the nap, read the book, write the note, shoot hoops with the kids host the friends, take the vacations. Then go back and work fiercely and care deeply. Solve the problems, cure the diseases, publish the research, set the standards and, most importantly, love our neighbors.
Here’s to the next forty years.