Friday, November 5, 2010

It's a love thing.

I could never hide the feelings
That come over me
When you're near me
I know that's how it's supposed to be
My heart is telling me. . . .

It's a love thing. . . .yeah.

from The Whispers "It's a Love Thing"

This past Monday was the most "fall" of the fall days I'd seen so far this year. The kind of air that's so crisp that it shoots straight up your nostrils and opens your nasal passages like strong peppermint. And the colors. . .grass, so gloriously green. . .the sky, so breathtakingly blue. . . and the leaves. . .oh, those beautiful leaves! With each gust of wind, they rise up to meet you. . . swirling around your feet and head in a palette so rich that it can only be compared to that moment when black and white Dorothy landed in technicolor Oz. . . . . .the kind of beauty that makes you know for sure that there has to be a God somewhere that had something to do with it.

Yeah, kind of like that.

This past Monday was one of those kinds of autumn days.

I took in its beauty as I parked my car in the space that this official-looking woman in a long skirt and dark clothing pointed to for my car. "That's fine right there," she said. I nodded and turned the steering wheel in that direction. Right behind me in her car was my friend and fellow Grady doctor, Stacy H. I watched her straighten up her wheels to get them as close to the edge as of the curb as she could. In the passenger seat beside her was Joanne, one of our Grady administrative assistants. I slid on my coat as I watched her step out of Stacy's van and onto the grassy shoulder. Joanne offered me a half-hearted smile. Stacy did the same.

We walked in silence for a few seconds; our feet in synchronous reluctance. No one knew what to say.

"God sure smiled on this day, didn't He?" I finally uttered. It came out kind of awkward.

"Yeah. . . " Joanne politely replied. Stacy just glanced at me and tried to smile again. This time her eyes were glistening with tears.

We reached the top of the grassy knoll where scores of people huddled solemnly below and around a green tent. A rabbi spoke in a hushed and calming voice. This was in stark contrast to the unabashed singing and bellowing ministers I was used to in my own culture. The traditional African-American "homegoing celebration" would probably feel like being in a foreign land for the many in attendance. But as I silently listened to unfamiliar prayers spoken in Hebrew--one similarity rang true: This was not something any of us wanted to do.

I clutched my chest and drew in a deep breath when my friend and fellow Grady doctor took the podium. Her arm was locked tightly in her sister's; her face a solid mask of pain.

"I want to thank each of you for being here. Our mother was an amazing woman, a devoted wife, and a committed mother. . . ."

Her voice began to break, but she quickly regained her composure. Sniffles rose and fell amongst the mourners. She was strong and brave to stand there. She even said a few funny things about her mother that made those who knew her mother smile.

Watching her grieve hurt me deep in my soul. I wanted to push through the crowd and tell her how sorry I was. I wanted to cry with her and to hold her hand; the doctor in me hoping that those things might be therapeutic. But what do you say to a child who just eulogized her only remaining parent? How tightly can you hold her hand to make her not feel afraid and alone? That thought made me cry.

Suddenly, while I was weeping into a tattered piece of napkin, something happened. It was as if God Himself tapped me on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, "Don't be sad. Take this in. No, not just the fall colors and the cool weather. This. Take this in."

And that's what I did.

Here's what I saw:

First, what I saw was a crystal clear autumn day. But then I saw nearly one hundred people standing shoulder to shoulder in honor of my friend's mother. I saw hands. Some holding the person beside them, some wringing shredding tissues, and a few masculine ones securely placed on the yarmulkes that mother nature repeatedly tried to blow off of their heads. I saw several medical students shivering outside of a tent in dark suits; one of whom had very, very recently had a baby. I saw Grady doctors young and old, current and former, patting tears from their eyes or hiding them behind dark shades. There were childhood friends flanking the family fiercely, and there in the center of it were the two sisters. Two sisters, one an attorney and the other a doctor, both of whom sat in those very seats eleven years before when they lost their beloved father. Two sisters who, since that time, had become two wives and two mothers each of their own two children. But that thought--it was too much. That made me cry more.

I felt that soft tap on my shoulder again. "Look again. Don't you see it? If you did, you'd not be sad."

Just then, I saw it . . . .I really saw it. And just like that, I stopped crying.

Here's what I saw when I looked again:

I saw children who grew up to be whole. I saw kids who became true friends to others and decent human beings--a sparkling testimony of the very best any parent can ever hope and pray for in a lifetime. In that moment, I saw what happens when two young people meet each other, fall in love, get married and then have two children that they parent with all of their might. I witnessed what happens when a man and a woman carefully hand down traditions and teach their children to embrace their culture and faith.

What I saw wasn't a black thing or a white thing or a Jewish thing or a Christian thing. This was a love thing. And in that love thing, I witnessed the perfect outcome of what happens when a mother's eyes and a father's eyes light up whenever their children walk into the room.

Those children become the kind of people that others love. The kind of people that draw countless friends out to stand with them in quiet solidarity in the middle of a cool autumn business day with virtually no notice. Some because they personally knew your parent. But many others who only knew the love they instilled in you, their children--so for you, they had to be there. Which really means they were there for them after all.

I thanked God for revealing that to me, and as soon as I had the chance, I hugged my friend and whispered in her ear the very words that had just been given to me:

"You represent the very best your parents had to offer this world. Your life is their greatest opus and the swan song for them that never ends. Always remember that."

I felt her trembling body burying muffled sobs into my shoulder, yet somehow it felt strangely peaceful. Just then, something else was revealed to me in that moment: As doctors, we don't just need to take care of our patients. We need to take care of each other, too.

I put that on a mental post-it note so that I wouldn't forget it..

When I walked back to my car, I could feel the temperature outside getting a bit warmer. I lifted my chin and let the November sun caress my cheeks. My tears had all dried and something in my heart felt celebratory. I squinted at the intense sunlight and paused. I promised myself to keep this moment as a reminder of what "love things" can achieve.

Yeah. God had smiled on this day indeed. And there was nothing awkward about it.


*for AB and AB, may your swan song never end and your love thing never die . . . .


  1. Beautiful ! Thank you.

  2. Beautifully said- I've shared with others!

  3. I read your blog religiously and always want to comment, but never know exactly how to respond. After reading this entry, however, I finally knew exactly what to say: Thank you! Thank you for so beautifully describing Monday's events. Thank you for helping me put things in perspective. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of a "love thing". Thank you!

  4. I came here from Danielle's blog (6YearMed) after reading your beautful, thoughtful comment on her post "Child's Pose." I was incredibly moved by your comments about the NICU baby and how you felt seeing him/her later with the disabilities.

    I am a mother of a nearly seven year old miracle boy who spent 209 days in the NICU. There are days I feel like you described. It is heartening for me to know that so many fine doctors DO feel those feelings and think those thoughts. I'm not sure why, but it somehow makes me feel better. *shrug*

    I look forward to reading more of your writing and musings about medicine, parenting, life.

  5. Beautiful. I lost my mom 6 years ago now and yet your words still brought me comfort, sitting here today. Thank you. :)


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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