Doctors, Please Don’t Forget Your Summer Reading

I finally got around to reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel The Signature of All Things this summer, and I couldn’t help thinking what I thought when I read Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and countless others. That is, “I hope doctors will read this.” I have not encountered many truer depictions of grief than what Alma Whittaker experiences when she learns of the death of Ambrose Pike:

There is grief below grief, she soon learned, just as there are strata below strata in the ocean floor—and even more strata below that, if one keeps digging…. There is a level of grief so deep that it stops resembling grief at all. The pain becomes so severe that the body can no longer feel it. The grief cauterizes itself, scars over, prevents inflated feelings. Such numbness is a kind of mercy.

What better required reading for physicians who daily attend to the victims of loss? I wish that the doctors who cared for my father at the end of his life had puzzled over Hanneke de Groot’s words on suffering:

“Well, child, you many do whatever you like with your suffering,” Hanneke said mildly. “It belongs to you. But I shall tell you what I do with mine. I grasp it by the small hairs, I cast it to the ground, and I grind it under the heel of my boot. I suggest you do the same.”

Hers is an exact description of how my father handled pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed just two weeks after the birth of his first grandchild, he only had six months to live, but never accepted his diagnosis. In fact, he denied it quite belligerently. But it didn’t mean he was ignorant or cruel. It would have taken an insightful physician to understand my dad’s grieving process, or at least a well read one.

Medical journals can only take one so far in becoming a great physician. There is an entire literary canon available to doctors in addition to their medical texts that can help them examine the deeper questions of their patients and ask better questions of themselves. Beautifully crafted characters and sentences can help all of us investigate the profundities of human experience. And physicians, as much or more than anyone, should be fluent in this practice. After all, it’s impossible to attend to the human body without eventually being baffled by an encounter with the human soul.

I hope that young doctors won’t leave behind a love for broad reading as they depart their undergraduate institutions to follow the rigorous path of doctoring. For an encounter like one with my dad, there may be only one sentence that matters.

Excerpts from Gilbert, Elizabeth, The Signature of All Things. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.

The Green

I’m just overwhelmed by the beauty of nature this week.

This photo, for instance, taken in the front yard.

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And, in perfect timing, a dear friend gave me a book that’s all about finding God in “ordinary time.” I love what the author, Sarah Arthur, says about her reading habits by the seasons: “I read poetry in springtime, novels in the winter, how-to books in autumn and baking recipes. But come summer, suddenly I’m somehow illiterate: creation itself is one long run-on sentence I can’t find the end of.”

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For me, it’s this spring that’s making me a little bit illiterate and also reluctant to get anything done indoors. I’m trying to write. This season should make writing almost inevitable with the wealth of inspiration flooding from the trees, the ground, the sky. But for some reason, it’s harder than that. I just want to sit and admire.

Remember Me

I’m currently working on writing several children’s books which has been so much fun. Two years ago,when my husband let me be in charge of the production and publication of his children’s book, Remember Me, I learned a lot about the process, and I realized I wanted to write my own as well.

Many of you know that Remember Me is a book based on the lyrics of one of the most beloved Mark Schultz songs by the same title, and all of the proceeds go to the non-profit Remember Me Mission (www.facebook.com/RememberMeMission). I picked two great Nashville artists, Aaron and Michelle Grayum, to illustrate the lyrics, and the result is beautiful. We’re so proud of this project. You can purchase it on Mark’s website (Mark Schultz web store) or select Nashville locations like Parnassus Books (www.parnassusbooks.net).

And, stay tuned for updates on other books to come!

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Three Loves

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I’m thinking about love in all it’s varied forms, and for some reason also writing poems around a single letter (in today’s case, T).

Here are three poems about love…They’re all different but kind of the same. I guess that’s just how Love is.

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Friendship

The love in friendship crawls
And sidles by,
Sticks around like sand between toes
and grows
Outlasting luck and sometimes love
It makes the turn again
Into something ever more
Miraculous

To a T

Take my love as token, talisman, talent,
Truth told twice to turn tides,
Tent
Toddler’s toes, tissues tugged
‘Til tattooed trust,
Taste
Test
Turnaround, tumble-down,
Talk about
Titanic theft

Having a Baby

When you have a baby you give birth
To your own trembling heart
And bring it home for a bit,
To hold,
Then watch it go
To playgrounds, parties, pools,
And someday lock itself inside another woman’s house
Where it will make the windows glow and beat

Two poems about Grace

The Dark

You used to be immune
To fear and understanding,
And who knows whether we kept you that way
Or if it’s by design,
But the thin thread held tension just long enough
For us to get comfortable

Until that night you wanted the door open
Light on
One more story
Drink of water
Don’t leave, please.

When did you become afraid?
Was it just today
That our words became warnings?

I can only pray for you to know better,
See the clay under your nails for what it is—
Dirt.
But also work and weight and wonder.
See in the dark as He does,
With that blind instrument of grace.

-January 2015


Does It Matter?

Does it matter which way is home
When the water freezes and cracks
If you travel by mustard seed trail
Or neon road sign’s flash

If giving into hunger
You run aimless for awhile
While bats and birds
Line up on the cables and smile
For miles

Does it matter which way is home
If you stand and wait and call
Until momentum or a branch
Drives you forward or you fall

And even so, who’s left to say
That the way you’ve gone is not the way?

-January 2015