Saturday, December 17, 2011

La profesora.

Not bad for an iPhone shot, eh?
you've been on my mind
Sister, we're two of a kind
So sister,
I'm keepin' my eyes on you
I betcha think
I don't know nothin'
But singin' the blues
Oh sister, have I got news for you
I´m somethin'
I hope you think
that you´re somethin' too. . . "
~ Miss Celie's Blues from The Color Purple
I stood there quietly on the escalator taking in my surroundings. The airport was buzzing with happy and chatty people. Their voices were distinctly different than the Southern twangs typical of Atlanta. From the corner of my eye, I caught a boy lingering next to life sized replica of a legendary Pittsburgh Steeler, Franco Harris.  His mother suddenly realized that he wasn't next to her and hissed at him in a very midwestern-y voice, "Would you come on? Our bags still need PICKED UP!"

Our bags still need to be PICKED UP?

People in Pittsburgh kind of like the Steelers. Like, for real.

Alrighty then. 

That's when I knew for sure--I wasn't in Atlanta any more.

Shortly after I exited the escalator, I saw a man in some sort of black uniform-looking get up standing alone. His shoulders were squared and his legs were stiff; in his hands was a square sign that read: "MANNING."

"I'm Manning," I announced as relief washed over his face.  He scooped my carry-on out of my hand--which happened to be a Lightning McQueen backpack--and hustled over to get my small bag from the rotating belt before I could.  Before I knew it, we were heading away from the airport and onto the highway.

"University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, correct?"

I glanced at the itinerary on my iPhone to be sure. "Yes, sir."

"Are you here for a job interview at the hospital?" he queried.

"Um, not a job interview or anything. . ." I stopped mid-sentence before saying the next part since it felt rather silly. "Uhhh, yeah. . .I'm here as a visiting professor."

He raised his eyebrows, turned the corners of his mouth down like Robert DeNiro and gave a slow, exaggerated nod while turning the steering wheel.  That gesture spoke volumes--"visiting professor" sounded like kind of a big deal.

Visiting Professor. It felt funny saying it. See, the visiting professors that I met over the years were usually older chaps with wizened eyes and thinning gray hairs atop their head. Almost always male, although a few times I'd run across female ones. Even those were seasoned enough to have at least one foot in the retirement door.

So yeah. My good friend and former Grady doctor Shanta Z. suggested to someone that I come there as a visiting professor--despite my lack of Dumbledore-ishness.

Shanta--who'd relocated to University of Pittsburgh after her husband Fernando H. --also a former super-awesome Grady doctor--got a career opportunity that they couldn't refuse. Three years later, Shanta had become the residency program director at one of the largest programs in the country and Fernando's research was booming. And now, here I was coming to see them both on their new turf as a visiting professor.

Something about being a "visiting professor" sounded like it was too much for someone like me, so in my head I renamed myself visiting "profesora." Even though the translation still says the same thing, I like that it's decidedly feminine. That makes it feel a little warmer and fuzzier to me. And nurturing, too. Plus profesora has an added spunk that just isn't found in the English version.

Instead of staying in a stuffy hotel, I had the very best accommodations with Shanta and her family. (Yay!!) I bet regular visiting professors don't get to hear a four year old sing Christmas carols at the top of his lungs while wearing foot-in pajamas or get a five minute Tae Kwon Do demonstration by a seven year old yellow belt. No, they do not. But a visiting profesora? Yes, this is exactly what she gets.

I was a little nervous when I arrived at the hospital on Thursday morning. A room full of unfamiliar residents sat at a table looking in my direction. Looking at me and waiting for me to not only say something professorial, but additionally appearing a little confused by my not-so-professorial appearance. But they had been briefed on who I was already. My fellow profesora, Shanta, had started some sort of drum roll that I now needed to live up to.


But you know? I found out quickly that these residents were no different than I was as a resident. To them, learning was learning. They were gracious and receptive and welcoming. Plus, Shanta had spoken kind words about me in advance and it was obvious that they all held her in such high regard that I'd at least get the benefit of the doubt.

I met many wonderful people and was treated more like a family member than a visitor. Yesterday morning I gave a lecture to their Academy of Master Educators. I didn't admit to Shanta how nervous I was feeling on our drive to the hospital.  She had made me some coffee and I tried to act cool as both sipped from travel mugs. She pointed out a few Pittsburgh sights along the way; I wondered if what I felt turning in my stomach would become something more.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that talking to a room of people deemed "master educators" was giving me butterflies.

"I am so excited," she said to me genuinely. "You're going to be awesome."

But what if I'm not? 

That's what I wanted to utter but I didn't dare say it out loud. She had enough confidence in me for the both of us, so I drew from it. It was that confidence that prompted the University of Pittsburgh to bring a youngish profesora into their institution for two full days of teaching and networking. I wasn't going to dare make her have second thoughts about it.

When I initially stood before that podium I felt my pulse quickening, but then I glanced over at Shanta whose bright smile and clasped hands allayed the last of my fears. A thumbs up from my fellow profesora saying "You're going to be awesome."

And you know? When it was all said and done. . . I felt pretty awesome. I sure did.

Right now, I'm reflecting on the joy of female friendships. Every now and then, I hear a woman (or usually a girl) say that they don't really "do" female friendships. This is almost always accompanied by some smug shoulder shrug that suggests just how "over" her own kind she is. The pettiness. The back-biting. The cattiness. The . . . girl-ness.

"I don't really fool with females too much. Most of my closest friends are all guys."

Oh, whatever.

I think women need women friends. We sure do. We need them to survive and to be our best.

Now, let me just tell you. . . .I have some wonderful male friends--I do. I am not sure what I would do without people like David M. or Neil W. or Jason S. But no offense, gentleman, my friendships with you are simply not the same as the ones with my fellow girlfriends.

It's kind of like the difference between professor and profesora. Decidedly feminine. . . warmer and fuzzier and more nurturing. Not to mention it has that extra spunk, remember? I think every girl should have some girlfriends she can count on, and every guy should have some close male friends in his corner.

Sure. Harry is my very best friend--but he also has close male friends. In fact, in my pre-BHE days when I used to pray for a life's partner, I always included this -- "God, let him be good to his mother and also have close, good friends. Old friends. Loyal friends. And male friends."

Harry definitely has some female friends and I have no problem with that. But that's not what I'm getting at. I guess I'm always a bit leery of the woman who has no unrelated close girlfriends and equally suspicious of the man who has no homies. Because even though I need Harry, I need my girlfriends and the friends I've found in my sisters and my mom. And Harry needs his male counterparts just as much.

Wait--what was my point again?  I guess my point is that, yes, I came to Pittsburgh as a visiting professor. But having my friend. . .my sisterfriend and fellow profesora there to hold my hand and tell me I'm awesome gave me wings, man. It made my chest poke out a little more and made me project my voice more. And doing a visiting professorship that includes vacillating between questions about work-life balance and resident education and marriage and medical student teaching and raising boys is pretty darn cool if you ask me.


You know? My favorite part of the entire visit to University of Pittsburgh was hearing person after person share accolades about my friend Shanta Z. For being the amazing teacher, leader, physician and person that she is. How glad they are she is there. How wonderful her energy is. From the highest person on that University of Pittsburgh totem pole all the way to the recently hired temp assisting her in the office. Speaking words that I knew already but that I was more than delighted to hear again.

"You are doing amazing things here. I know you miss Atlanta, but you being here in Pittsburgh seems right. You are having such an impact."  I told her that right next to the Delta Airlines Curb Check-in. Because these are the kinds of words women speak to women.

"It was a hard transition," she said quietly. She paused for a moment and added, "You know? After your talk, people said to me, 'Now I see how hard it must have been for you to leave that place.'"

Those words were loaded with more than just a compliment to me. I thought about all of those people and faces in Atlanta that she left behind. Fifteen full years in a place she loved. Yes, I know it was hard. Then I saw the new ones. . . the people growing in their confidence there because of her. The enthusiasm I felt, the buzz of excitement vibrating from those being touched by her in Pittsburgh.

"This is right, Shanta. It is."

She just gripped the steering wheel and sighed hard. That sigh could have meant many things. I decided to just leave it at that.

We put my bag on the curb and smiled at each other. I gave my friend a hug and thanked her before heading into the airport. I told her how proud I was of her and she hugged me back. And we both felt encouraged. Because this? This is what real women-friends do for one another. And women know more than anyone when other women need hugged and encouraged.

Profesora. Decidedly feminine. Warmer, fuzzier and nurturing, too.

Oh. . .and with that added spunk, too-- remember?

Happy Sabado.

And now playing on my mental iPod. . . . a song that embodies what is special about having girlfriends.


  1. I've had a core group of girlfriends since we were in Junior High.

    They mean everything to me. Recently my girlfriend and I figured out why these friendships seem to only grow more important, and we realized it's because it's the only love relationships that don't include that NEED component.

    Happy new year, Profesora. I'm so thrilled we found each other in this sea of a bazillion blogs.

  2. I still get together with a dozen of my Duke Nursing classmates. They know me like no one else does. And yes, it is a blessing. Also, I bet you rocked the house with your lectures. You may have a whole lotta new readers of the blog!

  3. Ann -- That doesn't surprise me about you. The best women I know have a close circle of real sisterfriends. Good for you. And yes, I am so glad that we found each other, too. Have a wonderful dreidel spinning time with your family. . .and a perfect new year, too.

    Mary Alice -- I bet those classmates of yours are some really cool women. Thank you for always being so encouraging, by the way. I welcome new readers, but cherish the ones I already have!

  4. Oh, gosh yes. Feeling you on this one. I have plenty of male friends, but its a different friendship entirely. My girls mean everything to me. Especially my best friend. No one knows me better in the whole world. And we're totally opposite, its funny. She's actually going to move to an east coast university in the states on a tennis scholarship because she'll have a higher chance of going pro there. But it really remind me of how Toni Morrison said, 'she is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.'

  5. Love that,Lucy. You are hands down the wisest teenager I have every known. You are what the Grady elders call "an old soul."

  6. I have no sisters and my mother...well.
    And yet, I have such a need for women friends. I trust women with my heart. MY women. The ones who have shared their hearts with me.
    And that part of The Color Purple? One of my favorite bits of film ever.
    I get this. And I honor it. And I honor you, Profesora. You know I do.

  7. Women are my people. I couldn't survive, I don't think, without them.

    What a fine profesora you must have been!

  8. Go get 'em girl! You sure are something special...truly, and sincerely.

    Your fellow Meharrian, Maria

  9. My close girlfriends have become my sisters over the years. They are across the country, and in some cases across the globe, but the ties that bind us can and always do stretch across time and space without the least bit of strain. I don't know how I could survive without them. This is why it is so difficult for me to understand my husband's friendships, which seem so much more superficial. I know some of the reasons why he does not have the kinds of deep bonds that I have with my girlfriends and it makes me so very sad for him. I am working hard to ensure that my boys will have a close circle of friends who will be with them to celebrate good times and pull through bad times throughout their entire lives.

  10. Also, I feel envious of all those in Pittsburgh who had the pleasure and privilege of meeting and hearing you in person. I know you were brilliant.

  11. Your talk was amazing and inspiring! I think we were particularly blown away by the stories about teaching professionalism on the fly. We "role models" need more role models on how to do it well. You wear your professional, physician self so comfortably with the human being.

  12. Those pics almost made me a little bit miss Pittsburgh even though I didn't enjoy much of my three years there. I feel so proud that you went up there as a visiting profesora! Can't wait for my own visiting prof days! Pittsburghese still cracks me up! Did you hear lots of yinz and n'at? LOL


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

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