Friday, December 25, 2009

Reflections from a Christmas with Family: Home is Where the Heart is

Suddenly my world's gone and changed its face
But I still know where I'm going
I have had my mind spun around in space
And yet I've watched it growing. . .

If you're listening God please don't make it hard
to know if we should believe in the things we see
Tell us, should we run away?
Should we try and stay?
Or would it be better just to let things be?

Living here in this brand new world
might be a fantasy
But it taught me to love
so it's real, real to me

And I've learned
that we must look inside our hearts
to find . . . . a world full of love
Like yours, like mine. . . . .

Like home. . . . .

"Home" (as sung by Diana Ross as Dorothy in the 1978 Movie version of "The Wiz")


On Christmas morning in 1996, I awoke at 8AM to several "firsts." It was my first Christmas away from home in my entire life, it was my first Christmas since I had officially become a doctor, and since I'm a California native, it was my first white Christmas. I remember staring out the window, mesmerized by the powdery blanket of snow that covered everything in sight--all contrasted by a cloudless blue sky. My new Cleveland home still felt foreign, but I will admit that the wintry scene was beautiful. For me, it was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. It reminded me that I had taken one more step firmly into my adult life, but also painfully underscored that being an adult comes with sacrifice.

Toto, we're not in California anymore. . . . . .

I took a quick shower and got myself ready for my twelve plus hour shift in the emergency department that day. "10A - 10P," I recall saying to a co-intern when asked about my Christmas plans. The ER lingo had now become second nature to me after nearly a month working there. As the lowest man on the totem pole, I got the booby prize-- the worst Christmas shift of them all. 10A to 10P. Scheduled smack in the meat and potatoes of the day. . . .too early a start time to join anyone for a holiday brunch and too late a finish to even tag along at someone's family feast. It pretty much sucked.

I had this tiny tabletop Christmas tree that my best friend's mom sent me that year. It came with it's own decorations and even blinking LED lights. That small gesture meant so much to me. My sister, JoLai, had sent me a small wrapped gift that sat on the glass occasional table as the lone present I would open that morning. That, too, meant more than she will ever know.

The night before my shift I had spoken to my entire family, all of whom were in California for the holiday that year. I didn't realize how much I cherished that time with my family until that first year when I was away from them. Sure, it had been years since I had stopped believing in Santa, or even woke up to the loads of wrapped gifts that mysteriously appeared after being absent the night before. But I missed just being there. . . . .the goofy family jokes and reciprocating engine of "remember whens." I wanted to argue with my siblings about pointless details of old stories, to grimace when an elder gave me too wet of a kiss, and to eat one slice of every piece of cake sitting on my Auntie Mattie's table until I was sick in my stomach. I wanted to be home.

"Maybe I can convince time to slow up,
giving me enough time in my life to grow up. . ."

That Christmas day back in '96 came and went. Over the years of my training, I missed a few more Christmases, and it seemed to be getting easier-- at least I thought. For that reason, I had no issue with taking call in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit for 24 hours on the Christmas of my final year of residency. "No big deal," I remember saying several times, hoping that I, too, would eventually believe it. The hospital cafeteria even provided the skeleton crew of resident physicians assigned to work that day with a fancy buffet. "Somebody has to work in a hospital on Christmas day," I said. I was a "big girl" now, so it was no big deal.

Sitting in my drafty call room, I placed a leisurely call to my family that year, all together once again for Christmas. My brother, Will, and his wife, Fran, had flown out from Atlanta with their two children. Both of my sisters were also there, as were my parents. I could hear and feel the energy over the phone. Laughter, joy, fun. . . . .one person after another grabbed the receiver to offer me well-wishes. "We wish you were here," my younger sister finally said. I felt a pang in my heart reminiscent of that snowy morning I spent alone with my miniature Christmas tree a few years before. I wasn't over it. I wished I was home, too.

There's no place like home. . . . . .

Now, every Christmas that I'm with my family, I allow myself to remember that feeling. It makes me appreciate the moments so much more. This year, I was doing just that while at my mother's house on Christmas eve yesterday. My sisters and I had managed to unearth a copy of the 1978 movie version of "The Wiz." (If you have never seen or heard of it, then, clearly, you are either a.) not black, b.) not from this country, c.) born after 1975, or d.) all of the above. )We gushed about how much we love, love, loved this movie, how much we listened to the soundtrack and how well we knew every song. Then we set out to prove it.

The star-studded cast of "The Wiz" included the late King of Pop Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, the great Lena Horne as The Good Witch of the East, Motown icon Diana Ross as Dorothy, and even the unforgettable funny man Richard Pryor as "The Wiz." It was the first African-American Broadway musical turned movie of its kind; surely paving the way for blockbusters such like "Dreamgirls" some thirty years later.

Oh, how we loved that movie--but check this out: Last night, my sister, Deanna, googled details on "The Wiz" movie, and we were stunned to learn that it was actually--gasp!--a commercial flop back then! Whachoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?! Turns out that the whole world was mad as hell that 34 year old Diana Ross was cast by her boo Berry Gordy as "Dorothy" instead of the star of the successful Broadway version (19 year old Stephanie Mills.) Who knew? Okay, but seriously, if Siskel and Ebert had solicited the opinions of 1970's African-American kids between the ages of 6 and 12, surely its box office history would have been different. (I'm just saying!)

Either way, from that discovery spun yet another one of our classically unimportant sibling discussions of who we saw the movie with, whether or not we cried, and more internet searches for who wrote which songs. The night was punctuated by three grown women (ages 41, 39 and 38 to be exact )dancing wildly around my mother's living room and belting out every word of every song karoake-style. It was awesome. The kids just sat there staring. I couldn't tell if they, too, thought the "Wiz" movie rocked, or if they just thought we were off our rockers. We had a blast.

This morning after watching our kids tear into their toys, Harry and I chatted about how great it was to be with family at Christmas and holidays. As we both got ourselves ready to head over to my brother's house for family dinner, I shared with him how bummed I was as an intern back in 1996. I described that white Christmas that I still remember so well as a blue one. Harry empathized, telling me about how much he hated being separated from family as a soldier during his Army days. But surprisingly, as hard as that time was for him, he went on to tell me that wouldn't trade it. "It made me a better man," he stated in his Harry-style matter-of-fact tone, "and it taught me to truly appreciate the luxury of being home with family. It's soldiers right now who have it way worse then either of us ever did." Ain't that the truth.

Well, wise Harry had done it again. . . .bringing to my attention another dimension of something I thought I already knew. My time in residency had taught me to savor family time, and yes, I think I did realize that my finite time away was nothing compared to other folks' situations. But this year, Harry helped me acknowledge something else that I hadn't before--I needed that experience to grow. Those lonely times helped to shape who I am, and, to follow Harry's words, they made me a better woman.

I find it serendipitous that my sisters and I watched "The Wiz" on Christmas eve. The pinnacle of the movie comes when Glenda, the Good Witch of the East (a.k.a. Lena Horne) informs Dorothy (a.k.a. Diana Ross) that all along, the only thing she needed to be home was to believe and think of home. The movie closes after Diana Ross gives her unforgettable rendition of "Home." Enjoying the film with my sisters brought "home" so much for me. . . . yet that finale song was the piece de resistance. "Home." A song whose lyrics speak to every woeful intern, every newly relocated young adult, and every homesick soldier making sacrifices that will ultimately make them, and quite possibly, the world, a better place.

"And I've learned that we must look inside our hearts to find
a world full of love, like yours, like mine. . . . . like home. "

Home is indeed where the heart (and the family) is. Singing old songs with your siblings, snuggling with my mother-in-law on her couch in Ohio, and just having the kids nestled between us in our bed some mornings. . . . it isn't anything yet it is everything. I hope you were able to enjoy this holiday season at "home". . . .be it physically or just by clicking your heels three times to be there in your heart.

Peace, light and blessings in the year ahead.

~ K. M. aka "gradydoctor" :)


P.S. Yeah, yeah, I know. . . .a lot of folks criticized Miss Ross in the role of Dorothy, and also believe that nobody sings "Home" like the original Broadway darling, Stephanie Mills but please work with me on this, if not for anything but the sake of this blog entry! Definitely rent the flick one day if you've never seen it--it's really fun if you can put your 8 year old hat on for a minute. . . oh, and if you are a thirty or forty-something year old person of color, go ahead and watch it again for the twenty-trillionth time. :)

For kicks, also check out this version by an unknown teenage singer named Whitney Houston singing this song on the Merv Griffin show back in 1985. She sho' nuff buh-raaangs it, too! Say what you want about Whitney, that girl can SANG! Hey, if any of you find a clip of Diana singing it in "The Wiz" let me know!! Enjoy! :)


  1. I truly enjoyed reading your blog "Home Is Where The Heart Is." It brought incredible memories of family get-togethers during the Christmas holiday. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face and a few tears to my eyes. God bless you and your family!

    Dick's Diana Ross Website salutes you!

    Friend to Friend -

  2. Dr. M., Perfect post for me to read tonight. I am heading back to ATL tomorrow after my last Christmas at home pre-M.D. I am dreading the thought that next year may be my first Christmas away from home. I have tried to truly appreciate the time spent at home with my family, but I know that those times away will make me appreciate it even more. Thanks for all you write. I love reading your blog.



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