Today, as I write this post, my dad is in an operating room, where his team is working to save his life.
Dad is a rather private person (unlike me, who has three blogs and writes about her personal life on a regular basis), so I’m not going to share any details about his illness. Instead, I want to talk about cynicism, service, and the meaning of one person’s life.
I’ve been working in the biomedical sciences for eleven years now—six years in grad school, another four-ish doing research, and less than a year of tutoring biology and chemistry students. I often feel a sense of cynicism from my colleagues about premedical students and their behavior, which is ultimately motivated by a fear of not being good enough: the obsession with getting the best grades and the best test scores. We lose track of the awesome, humbling goal of medicine: to save lives. My dad’s surgical team, if they are successful, will save his life today. How incredible is that?!
My dad has been receiving the best that modern medicine has to offer. He is one person, and his life is worth the best.
As a tutor, I sometimes struggle with the feeling that my work doesn’t matter, that helping one person at a time isn’t really helping anybody. It’s a cynical view, the same cynical view that sees premedical students as more concerned with their grades than with helping other people. It’s an ego-driven view, one that says I’m too important to spend my time helping one student at a time. I should be doing something BIGGER.
My dad: one person. Each student: one person. All of them, one person at a time, deserving of the best care that we can offer them, in our own ways.
Ultimately, some of my students will go on to be doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. They too will save lives, and how amazing is that?! When I think about those career paths, I can see that we exist in a circle of service: we who teach help our students become health professionals, and they go on to take care of all of us, one life at a time.
“On my deathbed I will be grateful for each choice of connection, love, and service,” writes Charles Eisenstein in The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. I think those of us who choose teaching or medicine intuitively know the truth in Eisenstein’s words. We make the world a better place, helping one person at at a time. If that’s the scale on which our work unfolds, then let us embrace that. Let’s celebrate it! We aren’t small just because our work happens on a small scale. We are big because our work sends out ripples of love into the wider world. Today, a group of medical professionals put all of their expertise together to save one life, my dad. This semester, I will give each of my students the best I can offer, whether here on this website or sitting down together in a coffee shop, solving chemistry problems together. Each act of service is an attempt at excellence, at meeting a real need coming from a real person.
How amazing is that!