Saturday, July 30, 2011

Top Ten: My Mental iPod



A quote from myself on this blog once:

"Shouldn't life, when lived to the fullest, have a soundtrack to go with it?"



Someone who reads this blog once asked me this:

"How much memory do you have on that mental iPod of yours?"

The answer: "Unlimited capacity."

Because it's true. There is no limit to what might get added to my mental iPod and absolutely no telling what is playing on it at a given time. That sucker is constantly on "shuffle."

I love my mental iPod. Usually I just close my eyes and hear the song in my head, but now what's extra cool is that since the invention of YouTube, I can actually hear the song I'm thinking of with the click of a mouse (instead of some reciprocating loop with eight bars of the wrong lyrics.)

Hold up.

I wouldn't necessarily call myself a music connoisseur or anything. In fact, my real iTunes library is pretty darn mediocre. Aaaahh, but my mental iTunes collection? Fuggeddaboudit. It's bangin'. And let me tell you--it's got something for every mood and everybody.

The thing with music and me is this--I don't limit myself to any genre. I simply like what I like. I just like listening to lyrics and melodies for meaning in them. Sometimes a song will remind me of a person. . . or a time. . . or an experience. Just like the sense of smell, the right song can put me exactly where I was at a particular time, and swing my pendulum from LOL-smiley faces all the way to boo-hoo crying in less than sixty four counts.

This week's top ten is dedicated to my mental iPod. Here are ten things from my "playlist" this week. . . . oh, and thanks to YouTube, my mental iPod now has video. Does that make it a mental iPad? Or a would it be an iPod Touch? Hmmmmm.

Anywho. Step inside my head why don't you?

TOP TEN: MENTAL iPOD PLAYLIST THIS WEEK


#10 The Dave Matthews Band - The Space Between



My brother, Will, and younger sister, JoLai, could possibly be two of the biggest "DMB" fans ever. This makes me a Dave Matthews fan by genetic association, albeit not one of fanatical proportions. Anyways. I do love Dave M.'s throaty voice and amazing control of its inflections. I also love this particular song.

Here is a confession--in ninety percent of Dave Matthews' music, I have absolutely no idea what the lyrics mean. Now this could have everything to do with me and my questionable musical gene and nothing at all to do with him. However. From the moment I first heard this song, I got it.

The video is beautiful. The song even more beautiful. It's about unconditional love, redemption, and loving each other through everything. All of the things that are always in the "space between" us and the people we love.

#9 Positive K - I Got A Man



I was at my sister's birthday party in L.A. last week and ran into someone that I hadn't seen in forever--a guy I knew from elementary and middle school. Anyways, I "OMG"'d and gave him a big hug when I saw him because it was a total blast from the past. Right after that, this woman steps in front of me in the most exaggerated way ever, puts her hand out to me and says, "Uuuuuhhh, hello. I'm MRS. Dude-from-elementary-school."

I looked at her like, You cannot be serious. 0_o

From that point forward, every time I saw her walking around the party I wanted to say, "I GOT A MAN!"

And yes. I would be remiss if I did not point out two things. The first is that my fellow Grady doctor, Neil W., loves this song and sings it often (even in 2011.) The second is that technically the context of the song is a dude hitting on women who have boyfriends, and not crazy-ish women who don't want you hugging on their husbands that you haven't seen since sixth grade. . . . .but so what.

"I'm MRS. Dude-that-you-haven't-seen-since-fifth-grade!"

0_o

Um, yeah. . . whatev.

# 8 Sting -- Sister Moon



There's this funny thing about blogging. People come and "visit" you and then you return the favor. After a while, you look up and you have this collection of porches that you feel welcomed to come and sit on even though you technically don't "know" each other to be sitting on each others' porches.

One of my favorite porches belongs to Ms. Moon, the author of a blog called Bless Our Hearts. Ms. Moon writes about anything and everything. She's spunky, opinionated, fiercely loyal to her loved ones, and honestly? Just a whole bunch of fun. She drops f-bombs whenever and wherever she damn well pleases and keeps it real-er than real.

I love her blog because we have nothing in common yet everything in common. I'm a black woman with young kids and she's a white woman with a grandson and adult children. I'm a faithful member of a Christian church who prays regularly and she's the high priestess of the (her quote) "Church of the Batshit Crazy" who describes herself as "not religious at all." I have anything but a green thumb and am terrified of just about anything that isn't a well-behaved human or a highly domesticated pet. She, on the other hand, could whip up a Sunday supper with the weeds in your back yard and the dandelions popping out around your mailbox. . .and one day she went LOOKING for what she thought was a mouse in a closet. (Awww HELLL Naaww!)

But.

We both love our husbands and think they hung the moon. We celebrate our families and friends so much it's nauseating--and we don't care. We both hate injustice and can laugh out loud at ourselves and our quirks. We both love us some good music and know exactly how to savor the perfection of the most ordinary time spent with extraordinary people. We respect people and take interest in who they are--even when the "who they are" is incredibly different than who we are, which is pretty cool. And. She makes Key Lime Pie and I love Key Lime Pie -- which means she is welcome on my porch any time.

Anyways.


Now that our blogs have intersected and made us "friends"--I have taken the liberty of calling Ms. Moon "Sister Moon." Kind of a convoluted way to get to why this song has been on my mental iPod, I know. So, yeah. When I read her blog, I hear this song. Not because of any deep lyric in it or anything. It's simply because I really like that song and it makes me happy when I hear it. Kind of like I feel when I'm hanging out on Sister Moon's porch.

And that's just one porch. (Some of my other favorite ones can be found to your right.)

#7 Mariah Carey -- Always Be My Baby



Zachary and I always sing this song together. All the time, ever since he was on my hip. Even though Mariah Carey has the Grammys and that crazy range, he tells me that he likes when I sing it better than "the real one." Imagine that. Let's be clear--I cannot sing. At all. But isn't it beautiful that he thinks that? And isn't it beautiful that I sing anyway?

Most of you already know from this blog that the kids recently spent a month in Los Angeles with my dad at "Camp Papa." When I finally saw them again, they looked so much bigger. But especially Zachary. His language was clearer and his toddler belly had virtually disappeared altogether. He hugged me in a "big boy" way instead of leaping into my arms in that "baby boy" way. I picked him up any way and felt sad when I caught a glimpse of how long his legs were against my body in a nearby mirror. He's not a baby anymore.

"You're not a baby any more!" I said with a playful (yet serious) pout. "What happen to Mommy's baby?"

Do you know what he said? Do you? Sigh. He grabbed my face with both hands and smiled in that Zachary way. . . .and started singing to me. . .

"You'll always be a part'a meeeee! I'm parta you a-defana-leeeee! No way ya eva gonna shake me! Oooo darlin' 'cause I'll always be ya babeeeeeeee!"

Then he kissed me and hugged me hard.

Yes. He will always be my baby.

#6 Gospel Music




I love gospel music. It uplifts me, it inspires me, and it speaks to me on so many levels. Part of me believes that that the souls of black folks past and present can always be found inside of gospel music. The creativity of it, the longing in it, the celebration in it, and the history behind it makes me so proud of where I came from.

Every single day when I am at Grady or driving near Grady, I hear a voice wailing these words out in my head:


"It could've been me
Outdoors with no food and no clothes
All left alone without a friend
Or just another number with a tragic end. . ."

I love this totally impromptu rendition of Walter Hawkins' classic "Thank You."


Gospel music. Isn't it wonderfully spontaneous? It's almost like the very best songs involve "freestyles" and ad libs that can only be found in this genre.

And what's cool about sho nuff gospel music? Regardless of who you are and what you do or don't believe, you can't help but feel moved by it when you hear it.



I especially love this song -- "This is the Day" as performed by Fred Hammond. I hear this version of this gospel song in my head at some point every single day. Sometimes I will play it on my real iPod, but mostly I play it on my mental one. My favorite part is the break that says:


"When I look back over all the years that I made it through
I can't imagine where I'd be now, if it wasn't for You. . ."

No matter what is going on with me, this song can put it all into perspective. In fact, most gospel music does that for me.



#5 -- Special Ed -- I Got It Made



This is one of those songs that was insanely popular in my freshman year of college. I'm not sure if it was as "insanely popular" wherever you were in 1989, but let me tell you--anyone who attended a historically black college between the years of 1988 and 1990 can recite the majority of the lyrics to this song.

Case in point: Harry and I were cleaning up one day and he had the TV on some kind of hip hop video channel. We were in the middle of what I recall to be a fairly deep conversation . . . .that is until this song came on. Dude. We sang E-VER-Y word. We pointed in each others' faces, did our very best Bobby Brown old-school dance moves, and mean-mugged one another while laughing our heads off. There were probably six or seven words that we didn't know--that's it.

Damn, it was romantic. Sigh.


#4 AC/DC -- Back in Black



I feel automatically "bad ass" when playing this on my mental iPod. You should try listening to this before doing anything you're nervous about. It totally does the trick and gives you all kinds of chutzpah.

A black lady rocking out to AC/DC, you say?

Look--I don't care who you are. This is just the jam. If you can sit still while listening to this, you are either dead or just completely lame. (You should see my kids when they hear it.)

Nuff said.

#3 Rock Steady -- Aretha Franklin, The Whispers, and No Doubt



All three of these versions played on my mental iPod this week. Aretha's version gets top billing because it's one of my anthems. The Whispers version is just soulful and makes me think of all of the groups from that era like The O'jays and Lakeside. No Doubt's version is just crazysexycool, and reminds me of how I pretty much wanted to be Gwen Stefani back when the song was in radio rotation. (Okay, I DO still get way too hyped and I admit that I not-so-secretly morph into Gwen every time I hear "I'm Just a Girl.")

That's really me and my co-interns when I lived in Cleveland and didn't get much sun.


No Doubt's version also reminds me a lot of how I feel about being with Harry. Rock steady, man.

But still. Aretha's version wins.

#2 James Taylor -- Anything and everything.

But this one is my absolute favorite of all time. I sing this song with my kids just about every single night. Kind of morose. . . but hauntingly beautiful to me. Especially from the mouths of babes. . . .



Good heavens, I love this song. For so many reasons. . . .but mostly because it reminds me of love.

#1 Jill Scott -- Golden




"I be high-steppin', y'all. . . . .letting the joy unfold. . . .I'm living my life like it's golden. . ."


This is song is my personal anthem. I hear it in my head constantly. I can barely even watch the video without crying . . . hard. I'm not really sure why that is either. Something about her confidence as she sings it, her genuine smile, the way she looks at people so lovingly. . . . like she knows something. . . .and then her voice, the upbeat tempo. . . . all of it together. . . moves me in the deepest parts of my soul. Every word. Almost like she penned that song just for me. Listen to this song and you will get me. . . .you really will.

Especially the line that says


"I'm strumming my own freedom playing the God in me
Representing his glory hope he's proud of me. . . "

Because that describes me. It does. How I feel, who I want to be, who I try to be. . .as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, as a physician, as an educator and as a human being. I want to live my life like it's golden. I really, really do.

Hmmm. So I guess now I do understand why hearing those lines makes me cry. Perhaps the tears are a sign of a good anthem.

"I'm living my life like it's golden . .
It really matters to me. . . ."


Hope your life is golden, too.

***
Now. Think about your mental iPod this week and let it inspire you. Add some new jams to it and don't be afraid of trying something new or really old. . . . .and stop back by my porch and let me know what you're rocking out to. Because I really do want to know.

Happy Saturday Night.




Thursday, July 28, 2011

The short fuse.

*names, details, all that stuff changed to protect anonymity. . . .
image credit

em·pa·thy/ˈempəTHē/ (n): the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.


______________________________________________

This one time at the Gradys. . . . .

I was talking to this seventy-something year old man with a 80 pack/year smoking history. For those who aren't in medicine, here's how you do the pack/year math--for every year you smoke, you multiply that by how many packs you knock out in a day. This gent had been puffing a staggering forty cigarettes per day for forty years so his equation went a little something like this:


40 years x 2 packs per day = 80 pack years.

Dang.

By this point, all that tobacco use had led to some health concerns. For real. Such as:

1. Oxygen-dependent COPD (also known as emphysema.)
2. Peripheral Arterial Disease (also known as "poor circulation.")
3. Hypertension (also known as "high blood pressure.")
4. Congestive Heart Failure (same thing as "heart failure.")

(Just to name a few.)

Now check it. The real problem is that despite all that this patient was still smoking. In his defense, he had cut back to one pack but still. I mean, damn. I felt myself getting irritated with the thought of it all. I looked at the rubber tubing nestled inside his nostrils feeding him supplemental oxygen while taking in the tell-tale scent of cigarettes emanating from his skin. It was like the entire room had been fumigated with it. I released a sigh . . . . feeling all of my empathy seeping out of me into a pool on the floor.

Like seriously? Even after annihilating his lungs, withering away his blood vessels, and pooping out his heart, he was still smoking? Oh come on.

Now. . .before you hate me. . . let me first confess something. . . .


On this day, I wasn't in the best of moods. Any time my day starts out with a crash and a bang, it ain't good, and that's exactly what had happened. See. . .first of all, I'd overslept (and so had my human-alarm-clock kids) that morning. This made my house complete mayhem and it made me rush so much that my already short fuse had become undetectable.

Grrrr.

To make matters worse, everyone with a Y chromosome in my house was ridiculously freakin' whiny--including my 40 year-old husband who virtually stalked me from the moment I woke up about ME making coffee. Yes. Despite the obvious fact that I had just woke up two minutes before I was physically supposed to be at Grady. (Insert deep breath with fist balled here.)

Woosaaahhhh . . . .

Which reminds me: Ladies. Gentleman. When and if you get married or otherwise boo-ed up--please. . . heed my advice--start the game the way you want to finish it. In other words, if you start the game being the one who makes the coffee every morning while whistling like Andy Griffith. . . and just if, by doing that, you somehow get your spouse/partner/boo/fill-in-the-blank to believe that when you make it (or any sandwich for that matter) that you somehow put "love" in it which is why it always tastes better when YOU make it. . . . then guess what? Even if you are late as hell you can guarantee that you will still be stalked for your love-coffee. (Or your love sammiches, depending on the situation.)

Fact: There is no such thing as love in a cup of coffee. Or a sandwich. Or a sammich.


But I digress.

So where was I? Oh. Mr. Gill, his oxygen and my short fuse. Yeah, so all I'm saying is that I wasn't in the mood to be trying to convince a grown-a man with a flammable gas strapped to his face that lighting up anything nearby was . . .uuhhh. . yeah . . . . not such a great idea.

Um, yeah.

Isn't that terrible that I was thinking all that? I know. . . .it was. The good news is that I wasn't so off that I didn't realize that acting on these feelings was inappropriate. So right then and there I started coaching myself to get over my craptacular morning full of whining and java-stalking. I swallowed hard and began shadow boxing in the corner of my head to deal with Mr. Gill and his love affair with cigarettes.

I thumbed through the chart once again and stopped on his pulmonary function test results.


"Severe Obstructive Lung Defect consistent with advanced COPD."

Woosaaahhh.

After examining him and reviewing the changes in his medications, I knew it was time to go there. "Okay. . . .so let's talk about the cigarettes, Mr. Gill."

He shut that down real quick.

"Nawww. It ain't nethin' to talk about there." His voice was crunchy like velcro and his will as strong as steel. This wasn't going to be easy.

I tried to think carefully before speaking; still coaching myself to be professional. "I wish you didn't feel that way."

Mr. Gill launched right back again with another zinger. "Oh yeah? Well, I wish y'all would stop trying to talk about me and smoking! But y'all keep on askin' so I guess everybody got a wish that don't come true don't they?" He let out a raspy and sarcastic laugh punctuated by a prolonged wheezy-sounding hack.

Man. He was too quick for me and this was requiring me to think faster than expected. I bit my cheek and tried to think of something insightful but came up with nothing. Instead I just told him what I was thinking.

"Mr. Gill, sir? The thing is the oxygen. That's the issue I mostly have because--"

"Do you thank I'm stupid a' somethin'? I ain't stupid, hear? Baby, I know damn well the oxygen don't mix with matches and cigarettes! I don't never smoke near the oxygen. I take it off every time."

Wait, huh?

"But sir. . . .you're supposed to be on oxygen all day. Smoking that much time every day with your oxygen off of you is dangerous, you know?" He cocked his head and looked at me like I'd just said the dumbest thing he'd ever heard. It was intimidating. This man was older than my father and firm in his resolve. "Look, Mr. Gill. . . . . I mean. . .I realize that you've been smoking a long time. . . . "

"Yeah. Longer than you been alive."

This time I did have a comeback, albeit a lame one. "Long as I have been alive actually."

His eyelids fell to half mast. Smart ass.

Finally he shook his head and said, "Miss Manning? Look here . . .regardless of all that. . . . I ain't ready to not smoke at all. I'm just not."

I swiped my hand over my face. Mostly because I didn't know what to say just then. He was too fast and I was too irritable.

"Mr. Gill, sir. . . have you ever quit at any point in these forty years?"

"Nawww, not really. I went up and down and done cut back here and there. But nawww. . . .I ain't never really quit altogether. See, I drove trucks for years and even after that I just always was a smoker. It's just parta who I am."

I stared at his leathery fingers with their yellowing tips and clubbed fingernails. His face had deep grooves throughout with the exception of the fine wrinkles framing his mouth filled with tobacco-stained teeth. The portable oxygen tank provided to him that day hummed beside him; he would periodically ball his fist and let out a gelatinous cough. The khaki pants he wore had been cut at the knees into shorts, revealing shiny, hairless legs that were textbook for circulatory impairment. And in his shirt pocket was a pack of Newports. Mr. Gill was as unapologetic about that rectangular box as he was about his refusal to quit smoking.

clubbed fingernails


Yes. This was part of who he was. I could feel my icicles melting. I wanted to "get" what he was feeling and suddenly felt much more intrigued than annoyed.

"Sir?"

He raised his eyebrows but didn't speak.

"What do you think it would take to get you to quit altogether? Like. . . have you ever just been tired of it? Like. . .sick of all the nagging. . .the cost. . .all of it?"

Mr. Gill narrowed his eyes and thought about my question. I appreciated the fact that he at least was giving it some thought.

"You know. . . .I do get sick of the nagging. But the rest? Honestly, not really. No, matter of fact. Not at all."

I'm not sure what I expected him to say, but for some reason I felt disappointed when he said that. It must have shown all over my face.

Mr. Gill gave me an endearing smile. He seemed a little amused by my earnest efforts to understand him and move him toward smoking cessation. Even if neither was working.

This patient was in what we call a "pre-contemplative" phase--the point where you aren't anywhere close to even thinking about changing a behavior. When people are in this place, the main order of business is patient education and not much more.

But with Mr. Gill we had been there and done that. He'd been given information out the wazoo and had been told all the risks of continuing/benefits of quitting ad nauseum. At this point he just needed to quit already.

"Miss Manning, you ever smoked in your life?" he finally asked.

"Smoked what?" I answered. We shared a quick chuckle at my comic timing, but after that I quickly got serious. "No, sir. I haven't smoked."

He pressed his lips together and nodded. "Then you don't know. I mean. . . no offense, Miss Manning." He paused and coughed into a clenched fist again. "See, smoking is part'a who I am. And I like who I am."

I tried to understand his perspective. I really did. But this was killing him. He had to acknowledge that this part of his life was killing him. And so I told him that.

"But see. . . that's not how I see it. See, I see it like enjoying a piece of sweet potato pie when you know you got sugar. Sometimes when you get older you just got to enjoy your life. You can't be worried about every single thing you do that ain't perfect. See, I'm almost eighty years old. At this point I jest might die with a cigarette lit in my hand." He let out that sandpaper laugh again and shrugged. "And I'll be happy 'cawse I enjoy it. I sure do."

Damn.

How do you compete with that?

"I want to say 'it's okay,' Mr. Gill but I just can't, you know?"

"I know, baby. This your job to do this. You 'sposed to give it all you got to get me on the straight and narrow so I could put them thangs down." Again that laugh. "But you got to understand-- smoking is part of my life. I get up, have me some coffee and a cigarette. Then I make me some breakfast and eat it. Have me one after that."

"I know what's next," I chimed in remembering the countless patients at Grady who've shared with me the common practice of blazing up on the commode. "The toilet, right?"

Mr. Gill threw his head back and laughed hearty and loud at that. "You sure you ain't smoked?"

"Naaah. Just been working here for a minute, that's all."

He softened his eyes and continued. "Yeah. I guess it's just such a part of my day, my people that I hang out with and play cards with . . . my whole daily routine--all of it. You know. . . me and my wife used to smoke together 'fore she passed on and I jest. . .I don't know. I jest don't have no desire to quit. I don't. I know i's bad but there's a parta me that love smoking."

I listened to his side and felt the sincerity in every word. Finally, I got it.

Ah hah.

He was right. I had never been a smoker and no, I had never tried to quit. Hearing his perspective made me think about someone plucking part of my daily routine away from me and how it would make me feel. Like if I was told I couldn't have coffee in the morning or that I couldn't put my hand on Harry's back at night when I sleep? What if. . .one day. . . a doctor marched into an office, wagged a finger in my face and insisted that I altogether quit . . . .writing? How would I feel? What would I do?

As he implored me with his compelling arguments, I quietly wondered how willing I'd be to give those things that are "a part of me" up. . . .even if I knew they were detrimental to my health. The truth is I wasn't sure.

"I hear you."

That's what I finally said. And I said that because it was true. I did hear him. . .and every other long time smoker. . .for the very first time.

I can't say that this encounter swayed me to think smoking is a good idea. Nor am I ready to adopt a "do you" attitude. But one thing for sure that can say is that on that day, I saw a little of myself in my patient. . .which is technically what empathy is all about, right?

"Mr. Gill, sir?"

"Ma'am?"

"Will you think about the stuff I told you about quitting and your health problems? Like the reasons it could be good for you?"

He flashed his large beige teeth. "I will, baby."

"That's all I ask." I smiled back and signed one of the encounter forms to wrap up our visit. When I put down the pen, I noticed his eyes resting on me. The right side of his mouth turned upward in a coy smile. It was a little embarrassing.

"Miss Manning?"

"Sir?"

"I want you to think about what I told you, too, hear?"

I stuck out my hand toward him and smiled as my fingers were lost in the grasp of his coarse palm and bulbous fingertips. . . .and in that moment, I was okay. . . okay with my day. . .okay with his choice. . .okay with that moment. . . .okay with it all.

***
Happy Thursday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . not fully sure why. . . but for some reason it is. . . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rising to the occasion.



Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave
I am the dream and the hope of the slave

I rise
I rise
I rise

~ Maya Angelou "And Still I Rise"

On the first day of medical school, they had us all sitting in a lecture hall perched on the edges of our chairs at rapt attention.  Okay, maybe not everyone was "perched on the edges" but I can at least say we were engaged.

Because this was the start of the show. The lights were down and the curtain was up and finally the spotlight was on us.  This was it. That point where you officially get to transition from saying, "Yeah, I think I'm going to go to medical school someday" to a sho' nuff and bona fide declaration-- "I am a medical student." And it's kind of a big deal.

I remember that first day in an unusual amount of high def and detail.  A sage senior physician paced back and forth in front of the room.  His heavily starched and blindingly white coat had pristine cloth balls for button closures and his name was embroidered in an elaborate cursive above the left chest. His pockets were flat and empty with the exception of the one that held a fancy ink pen; it was as if everything he needed to know was stored perfectly in his brain. Finally, he stopped, freezing us all to stone statues like Medusa with his steely gaze. You could hear a pin drop.

"Your lives will never be the same." He spoke in this strong and deliberate tone; confident and with intention. Every syllable was enunciated as if a person on the front row needed to read his lips to get the message.  He pointed at all of us with his long index finger. "YOU are the result of what was, for many, a dream deferred. You. You are the result of hard work, you are the promise of what can be, and yes, you are the very definition of what will be. So, you see, young people. . . you owe it to more than yourselves to be excellent. You owe it to all of us and. . .  all of them."



Damn.

"Them." You know. . ."them." The "them" that couldn't go to medical school even if they wanted to or who were told that they'd never succeed if they did. Or even the "them" that did go to medical school, perhaps, but were treated unfairly by colleagues or who ironically died of blood loss after dedicating an entire career to the invention of the blood transfusion. Yep, "them."  The same "them" that had to eat in the kitchen or back on the porch when company came, and the very "them" that only counted as only 2/3 of a person for an embarrassingly long time in history. "Them." This was a lot of pressure to put on a twenty-one year old sorority girl. It's the first day of medical school and I already have to worry about not letting "them" down?

Damn. 

I guess I should share that I attended Meharry Medical College--one of the oldest historically African-American medical education institutions in the country. What this means is that, with very few exceptions, that message was being delivered to a group of promising young medical students of African descent.  For this reason, I think that senior physician with his perfectly pronounced words and with his espresso-colored complexion spoke so passionately because he'd been to the mountain top already and probably felt like he was looking into a back-to-the-future mirror.  And you know what? I remembered his speech from that day. It resonated with me because he was right. For many, this was the result of countless dreams deferred.  And I did owe it to myself and "them."

It's funny. For the last ten years, I have worked with medical students of every imaginable ethnicity. One thing I have learned for sure is that even though that message was being directed at a roomful of black future doctors, the lessons are both timeless and applicable to anyone of any race. Getting to the point of medical school, no matter who you are, is a dream come true for someone somewhere. And just like he said--yes, it is the result of some elbow grease and is swirling with promises for a future that someone somewhere only wishes they could know.



And so. This is how I approach all of the medical students with whom I work. Whether they are black, white, blue, green, short, tall, straight, gay, born here, born there, really young, really seasoned, outgoing, introverted, amazingly tri-lingual, or hopelessly uni-lingual. . . .  I tell them words quite similar to the ones I heard on my opening day.  . . .because we all have a "them."  I remind them that yes, this is a big deal, you being in medical school and yes, you do owe it to more than just you to make the most of it.

Oh yeah, I also say that even if your mama and your daddy are doctors, this medical education is yours, not theirs. You need to be the one handling it with care and you are only entitled to what you do from here forward. Not what they did. (But that doesn't mean you shouldn't let their expectation motivate you.)

Anyways.

Yesterday was the first day of school for our Class of 2015 (!) medical students. There they sat. . .  in a similar setting to me on my first day with the brightest of eyes and the bushiest of tails.  And sure, a few things were slightly different than ours back in June of 1992. . . . but those same truths were still self evident nearly twenty years later.

"You are the result of what was for many a dream deferred. You are the result of hard work, the promise of what can be, and the definition of what will be. So, you see, young people. . . you owe it to more than yourselves to be excellent. You owe it to all of us and all of them."

 In other words, rise.



*P.S.  And don't embarrass us either--or them. 


 ***
Happy Wednesday.

This made me cry this morning when I watched it. . . .now playing on my mental iPod.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who cares?



Just don't deny it,
Don't try to fight this
and deal with it
and that's just part of it. . .

from Apocalyptica "I don't care"

A colleague that I don't know personally read a story I wrote about one of my F.P's that was recently published. Using the author correspondence, he sent me a kind email and said some things in it that got me thinking. . .

One of the things he said was this:

"I've never been to a patient's funeral, nor am I sure I ever would or could."

He went on to share about how he struggles with personal and professional interactions with patients. In other words, he seemed to be trying to figure out how to manage that thin line between caring for patients and caring for patients. His approach to date had been a "just the facts" one--where he focuses as much as possible on the medical issues at hand instead of holding someone's hand.

Hmmm.

I'm not sure this method is too unusual. Like many people, this guy had a bad experience early in his training with caring too much. He'd gotten his heart all wrapped up in a sick child that, although he didn't refer to him as such, had become his F.P. for sure. Suddenly things took a turn for the worse on call one night. Yes. His F.P. on his watch. Unexpectedly things went crazy and the superhuman response required to right the ship was beyond his intern expertise. Senior folks swooped in with their big professor red cape-brains and saved the day. And that child's life.

That's when he realized something. Here he was sitting there holding this boy's hand and asking what his favorite color was. . . .and exploring action heroes and how to do the perfect handstand. . . . which seemed to make his patient feel better but at the end of the day, was not what saved his life. Medical knowledge right here, right now did. Not him and his pesky hand-holding and stargazing. And this guy? He wanted to save lives.

He closed that thoughtful email by saying something along the lines of how he deliberately tries to keep his heart out of it. But. My patient's story did make him wonder about this approach.

Wow.

So today I guess I'm simply reflecting on all of this. I'm wondering about this notion of going to a special patient's homegoing or funeral or memorial service and whether it's just too weird or not. Like. . .is attending a funeral as a doctor--even if you've been invited--too intrusive or too much? Does it cross a line that caregivers should clearly stay behind?

And.

What about the rest of it--the things like holding hands and asking about all sorts of plans? You know--those plans that have nada to do with nada and that simply serve to create a bond between two human beings. . . . the ones that, when you find out about them, make you care. When all you were supposed to be there for was care.

I can't say that I've ever tried the "all business" approach. Like that guy, I have been frustrated by what I don't know or by those times when me and my little bag of medicine tricks are no match for fickle fate. But when I'm caring for human beings I always want to know. . . .like I can't help it. . . .who are you? Or sometimes. . . who were you? And see, the problem with that kind of curiosity is that your heart gets all up in it. So you find yourself crying in locked bathrooms. Or wrestling down the ugly cry at a funeral.

I've said it here before and have heard other folks say it, too--let your love be a verb. When it comes to being a doctor--especially a Grady doctor--I think I feel the same way about caring. Sure, I read the journals and work to acquire the knowledge, but that's never been enough for me. Even though it's the noun that I get paid for, "care" always ends up being a verb for me.


I love that a one page story nestled in the back of a high impact journal rubbed a probably uber-successful scientist-slash-physician so raw that he just had to send that email. I also love that, after all those years, the feelings behind those moments he spent with that young patient were still so fresh on his mind that he could recount them in fine detail just like that (insert finger snap.) Kind of like the verb care never left him after all. . . . .

Hmmm.

Caring versus caring. Or rather caring verus caring + caring. Speaking at funerals. . . versus keeping it "all business". . .all that stuff. Okay. . . .tell me. . . .what do y'all think? For real, I want to know.


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Camp Papa Postcard Classics: Sink or Swim.


Dear Mommy and Daddy,

Today Papa said he was going to teach me and Zachy how to for real swim. He said the way you learn to swim is to just get in and then make a choice to sink or swim. That's all.

Zachy said he chooses neither.

Love,

Isaiah Age 3 and one fourth (and Zachary Age 21 months)

The Day We Were Born.




On our wedding anniversary this year, Isaiah told me that it was a special day for our whole family.

"It's the day our family was born, Mom," he said with that serious Isaiah-face. He went on to tell me that, for this reason, we should always see our wedding anniversary as "our family's birthday."

No matter what.

Good ol' Isaiah.

Well, today is another family birthday. On July 23, 1966, my parents were married. And you know what? I think Isaiah was right. This day is a special day for our whole family. No. Our parents' amicable separation and subsequent (very meaningfully redefined) relationship does not negate this being a special day either. And yes. The unconventional nature of their arrangement has, at times, made us unsure of what to do or how to regard July 23.

But not any more.

Because July 23, 1966 was the day our family--this family--was born. And here's what's cool. How a family is born varies from family to family. Some families are first born one way and then born again in some other kind of way--- and that's okay. Families grow and families change and families evolve. Sometimes it's totally fairy tale and sometimes it completely isn't. Well sort of. Because your fairy tale is your fairy tale and that's all that matters. As long as there's love in the family, you and your family make the rules.

For our family, the one that was born on July 23,1966, this works. And for our family? There is definitely love all up in it. Yes. This is our fairy tale.



Happy Birthday to our family. So glad we were born.

***
Hope you and your family--however that is defined--are enjoying your weekend, too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Top Ten: Good Times.




This has been a fun week. There's been lots of things that have made me smile---and laugh.
 This week I bring you ten of those things. . . . . .

#10  --  Wowie Howie!

"Wanna hear it? Here it go!"  (image credit)


One of my most favorite people-slash-medical students, Howie C., is an MD/PhD candidate who happens to be equally as nerdy as I am when it comes to telling stories and writing them down. For this reason, I love talking to him and advising him and listening to him and learning from him. He's a smart guy who's going to make a wonderful physician someday.

Anyways.

Enough of all that. Howie regularly participates in this storytelling open mike-thingie where you literally throw your name in a hat and (if your name gets pulled) jump on the stage and get your storytell on.

Turns out that the last time Howie went, they pulled his name and he indeed rocked the mike. But. Turns out that CNN was there at the same time and did a story on the whole shebang--including a big ol' glossy photo of Howie. Peep the story here. Oh, and peep Howie's blog here. Howie gets a little shy about shout outs, but I did get permission first. So check him out.

(Uuuuhh Howie? This means you need to post, aiight?)

#9 --  Gettin' busy.


At the nail salon with my sister, JoLai. . .

Nail lady: "Sister, you want the busy toe?"

Me: "The busy toe?"

Nail lady: "Yeah, the busy toe. You know, the busy toe with the design."

Me: "Heck yeah!"


Total price of busy toe? $23 bucks, baby! (Remember my rad toes from last time I was in L.A.?)

I love L.A.! (We love ittttt!)





#8 -- The Three Muskateers.


This conversation had to do with the best ways to brush teeth. Those guys get into some real deep conversations. I'm just sayin'.

#7 -- Wiggin' out . . .or Gettin' Wiggy with it. . .

Not-so-extreme makeover.

I was hanging out with one of my homegirls from high school yesterday and she had this cute little Peter Pan pixie hair cut.

"Your hair looks adorable!" I told her. "I can't believe you cut it all off!"

"Girl, please," she replied. "This is a what? WIG, boo!"

"Shut UP!" I screamed. Then I said, "I wanna try it on!"

And seeing as my homegirl doesn't take herself too seriously, she pulled it right off and let me.


Awesome.

By the way, Zachary saw this picture and had this to say:

"Um, Mommy? I really don't like it. Really don't."

So much for that. 




#6 -- Small group = Family time.


The family is about to grow!

 Even though my vacation started on Monday, I spent time with two of advisees on Monday and even came to the School of Medicine for our small group session.  This picture was taken in 2009--when my current third year students were spankin' new M1s, and my recently graduated group were starting the M3 year. It's hard to believe that they are now the "big kids on the block."

Small Group Alpha
Small Group Beta

 On Tuesday, I will meet the next generation in our small group family--"Small Group Gamma." (The students came up with this whole Greek alphabet nomenclature, by the way.)

I told them that I was really nervous about it because it feels a lot like having a third baby--and I've never had a third baby. I remembered what my grandmother said when I asked her about her eleven children and thirty-some-odd grandkids and loving them--"Your heart makes room."

So in an effort for us all to make room in our hearts, I asked them all to spend ten minutes writing a special message to the eight new advisees coming to the "Team Manning" family. A few words of wisdom from those older sibs who are already in the trenches. . . . and wow. . .they gave some awesome advice! We read them out loud and laughed out loud, too. It was great.

The other awesome part was that Small Group Alpha (my first small group) has been sending messages from the front lines of internship about what it's like. At our session Tuesday, I read a few of those words to them. They were on the edges of their chairs.  The whole thing was warm and fuzzy and full circle.

I went back and watched this, and it made me all happy inside. And a little tearful, too.


Small Group Alpha - EUSOM Class of 2011 from Kimberly Manning on Vimeo.



My how they grow!

#5 -- Ant rules the world!



Antoinette is the last Mohican remaining from Small Group Alpha. She's graduating this year because she spent an extra year getting a Masters of Public Health. Currently, Ant is in Guatemala working on an awesome research project.

Would you believe that this is the 26th country that she has gone to on her travels? Twenty six! Antoinette's fearless approach to travel, life, and adventure always makes me smile. I'm so, so proud of her.

Oh yeah, Antoinette has a blog and writes beautifully. She'll be blogging from Guatemala--check her out!

(Ant? We'll be counting on you to post, too. . . )



#4 -- JoLai.





Talking to my sister JoLai always makes me smile. No matter how dumb my jokes are, she always laughs. This was from yesterday on a sunny patio near the beach.. . .

I love that girl.



#3 -- Walking in L.A.

This ain't the only trunk with junk.


Crossing the street today. . . .

"Hey! You with the big booty! Watch out 'fore you get hit!"

Somebody yelled this from a car. There were four of us crossing the street at the time and we still aren't sure who the dude was talking to. That would be because we all. . . .ummm. . . yeah. We just aren't sure who that was for.

The funniest part was how we all turned around when he said it. . . .

#2 --  Under the Big Top.

Dad texted this picture of the kids and him from the circus last night.  Yes. The circus.

I asked him what Zachary did to get him to buy that big ol' hat. Answer? "He asked."

Of course he did.

#1 --  Only at Grady.

Dude. Now sometimes there are things that happen at Grady that I tell people and they say, "You have to be making that up!" And no matter how many times I swear up and down that I AM telling the truth, sometimes there are things that are just so ridiculous that you need photographic or videographic proof.

Enter our good friend Neil W.

So. . .  (since I'm on the West coast right now)  in my absence, he sent me this message on Tuesday:

Thought ive seen everything at Grady. Rained HARD for 30 min. Couldnt get to hosp from FOB [Faculty Office Building]. When I did I saw a lake flooding road at McDonald's and 2 guys kayaking what use to be the street!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Kayaking? Kayaking?

I immediately screamed and demanded to know if he'd taken pictures. Regrettably he hadn't taken any photos . . . . .aaaaah, but he did take VIDEO.  Yes!  He was on the seventh floor of the hospital at this point, but if you look carefully you can spot these two folks floating down Jesse Hill Jr. Drive in front of Grady Hospital--in a KAYAK.


video


Now. 


Why did they have a kayak with them? I do not know.


Whose idea it was to get out and kayak? I have no idea.


Oh, and what do we have against Georgia State University? Nothing. It just happens to be up the street from Grady. 


That? That was the funniest thing I have seen all week.  

See? It's good to have people on the blogworthy case in my absence--thanks, Neil!


***
Happy Friday.


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .ode to my hometown. . . .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Camp Papa Postcard Classics: Everyone wins.

Dear Mommy and Daddy,

Today we played hug-o-war. Us against Papa. Papa thought that he won but I told him that in hug-o-war everyone wins. He said he liked that game rule. 

After that we had some frozen yogurt.

Love,

Isaiah, age 6

***


". . .where everyone kisses and everyone grins and everyone cuddles and everyone wins."

~ Shel Silverstein

Random recap: Celebrations and Sucker Punches.

Homegoings = Celebrations of Life.


Here's a glimpse into a few random parts of my day yesterday. . .


It was a great day. First, I went to a really special patient's homegoing celebration. (Most who read this blog already know what I mean by "homegoing"--but click the link in case you're drawing a blank.)

Okay. So I know it seems like I am constantly saying this, but this patient was totally an F.P. All-Star. She was awesome.  . . .and I loved being involved in her care. Man, we had the best time. She was the one who I used to download and play music for on my iPod.

The last song I downloaded and played for her was Nat King Cole singing O Tannenbaum--it made her so happy (which made me so happy.) She wasn't even on my team during that hospitalization, but of course I had to come and see her.

Yesterday after the funeral her daughter reminded me of something from that last time with  O Tannenbaum. We were standing around talking to a group of her family members when she grabbed my arm and said, "Remember when Mama patted the bed and asked you to sit next to her that day?" She chuckled and told them, "Dr. Manning jumped right in next to Mama in that bed!" Everyone laughed, and I did, too. But only for a few moments because I'm pretty sure I saw tears forming in her daughter's eyes right after that.

To break up the mounting emotion, I reminded her of something else from that day--something funny that her mother said.

"Hey. . .Remember what your mom said about Nat King Cole that day?" She covered her mouth and gave a knowing nod. I looked at the family and went on. "Y'all. . . She said, 'That ol' Nat sho' had the voice but he ain't have much of a face, did he? Bless his little ugly heart!'"

Bless his heart.


This time everyone broke up in laughter. Her daughter hugged me tight and genuine, and I hugged her back, glad that I knew just a little piece of her mother. Yes. Her mama  was a beautiful person inside and out . . . and so. . . . the homegoing celebration reflected that---it was beautiful. 

Me and my colleague/fellow Grady doctor Shelly-Ann F. were asked to say a few words.  Okay, here's the thing. Y'all know that I'm not shy, so that wasn't the issue. The issue was that the last time I "said a few words" at a patient's funeral, I went into a full on ugly cry. Full on. 

But how do you say no to this? Answer--you don't. 

That last time? It was bad, y'all. Real bad. Although one part did get rather comical because this lady (who I'm assuming worked for the funeral home or church or whatever) made it her job to wipe snot off of my face as I was talking. Like the whole time I was talking. Which made me cry even more. It was really, really weirdly intrusive (but mostly weird.)  The only thing that helped me to stop crying was when I looked at a friend who was there who was, literally, stifling a laugh at how ridiculous it looked -- me chest heaving and dragging the heel of my hand across my snot-exploding nose while this woman with a lop-sided wig accosted me with a giant ball of Kleenex every five seconds.

Okay, so that's why I felt nervous about speaking yesterday. The good news is that I didn't cry when I spoke, and I kept it well under the "2 to 3 minutes, please" that black folks always request but no one adheres to. So nope. No crying and no ugly crying.

At least while I was speaking there wasn't. I made it through the whole ceremony with a few dainty eye pats, and then the organist started playing music and someone started singing. . . .

"Soon ah will be done. . . .with the trouble of this world. . . "

That did it. First I started sniffling a little. . . trying hard to be cool about it. . . but then I just said "bump it" and went on ahead let loose. "Boo-hoo crying" as my best friend Lisa calls it. See, I was tripping because I had just posted Mahalia singing that song on my blogpost not even two or three hours before. Literally. That very song on that very day. And the soloist was singing it all Mahalia-Jackson-like in that throaty, low octave. Bananas.

Whew. It was a lot.

Anyways. All that celebrating and crying made me hungry, so I stopped in a restaurant to have lunch. Shortly after I got there I notice this woman staring at me. Hard. She narrowed her eyes and finally says (kind of loud-like) from across the room, "Excuse me! Excuse me, can you come over here for a minute?"  With her index finger she pointed at me and then turned over hand to summon me with a come hither wag.

As a side bar, I have to admit that I am absolutely amazed at how many people recognize me from Fox 5. I mean, I am on for like two seconds once per week yet nearly everywhere I go (in Atlanta) I am approached by people who say, "Aren't you Dr. Kimberly from Channel 5?" And honestly? No matter how many times it happens, I'm touched, because it's flattering to know that somebody not only watched but remembered.

Anywho.

That's what I thought was about to go down. So over I go. I run my tongue over my teeth hoping there's nothing trapped in them, and try to turn a wee bit of--ah hem--swagger on as I approach.

"Yes, ma'am?"  I say in a decidedly welcoming and non-snobby way ('cause you know--being a quasi-local-celebritoid and all, that kind of thing is important.) 

Alright, so check it. So much for me getting recognized. This lady didn't know me from Adam. For people who don't know this phrase, all it means is that she didn't know me from a can of paint. Still confused? Look. She didn't know me, y'all. At all. I wasn't no parts of a quasi-local-celebritoid to her.

"I need to see yo' necklace," she said pointing at my neck with her fork. Through a mouthful of food she continued. "Yeaaahhhh, I like that necklace! Tha's a beautiful necklace!"

I patted my neck with my special, sparkly necklace on it and thanked her. She was right. It is a great necklace and every time I've worn it I've gotten compliments out the wazoo. My patient was special so I wore my special, sparkly necklace in her honor.  Anyways, I bought it from this super cute yet super affordable boutique in Atlanta's old fourth ward. I like the boutique owner and also liked the idea of getting her some business so I prepared to share the wealth.

But first I had to gush (because any time I get a good deal on something, I have to gush.)



"Would you believe that this necklace wasn't even that expensive? Oh my gosh! It didn't cost a lot at all."

Guess what that lady said to me? Just guess--no, don't. I'll tell you:

"Oh. I could tell it wasn't expensive. Mmmm hmmm."  She sucked her teeth and leaned in to look a little closer.

No she di'in't!

Um. Yes. She actually did.


"Uuhhh, okay," I responded with a nervous laugh. That's all I could think to say about that sucker punch.

"Yeah. I could tell it's cheap." (STILL CHEWING) "It's probably from the Apparel Mart."

I quickly hit her with a rebuttal. "Well, actually, I got it from a boutique here in Atlanta and not from there at all."

"Oh. Well, I'm sure they got it from the Apparel Mart. Mmm hmmm. They got all that cheap stuff. But it do look cute on you. It do."

Seriously? Seriously.

Still staring at my neck, she sucked her tongue on her teeth again and went on. "See, I makes jewelry. Tha's why I know all about jewelry. Here. Take my card. My stuff ain't from the Apparel Mart."

"Uuuuhhh. . . . thanks?"

What's extra crazy is that she was dining with a friend who didn't seem to think this was the least bit odd. 

Yes. This is what happened. So I took her card and off I went to sit down and eat my lunch.

Me and my cheap ass necklace.



What else?

Oh yeah. I flew home to Los Angeles to visit the fam and also to retrieve the boys from Camp Papa. Sad. . .I know. The flight was pretty uneventful, but when I got to L.A.X. and walked down the hall toward baggage claim, I saw this:

The actual setting of the ultimate Aww Hell Naww.



Don't know what this is? Y'all! This is the hall where that super, ultra, horrible long line was the last time I here. Remember? The one when the people were running late and asked if they could go ahead of everyone? When the lady shut them down?

I was so psyched to get a picture of it with my iPhone so that you could have the full picture.  If you get a chance, go back and reread that post---I did last night and it's even funnier when you have this picture in mind. New to this blog? You've got to read that one--sure it has absolutely zero to do with medicine, but it's a great story. For real.

Whelp. That's all I've got today. Nothing deep.

Oh, and if I haven't told you lately? I sure appreciate you reading. I appreciate every click on your Google reader and on your favorites and on whatever way you get here. I love seeing your comments waiting and knowing which things made you smile or laugh and which posts you were feelin' too. So thank you. Because your time is precious and I appreciate you spending it with me. Seriously, y'all. I really, really do.

***
Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A good word.

*names, details, stuff changed for anonymity. . .you know what's up.
image credit

Grady Wards 2011

I was rounding one morning alone and came to the room of one of my patients. Mrs. Menefee was memorable; an octogenarian with wise, twinkling eyes and smooth, espresso-colored skin. Usually I found her fast asleep during this hour but today she was awake when I arrived. Wide awake.

She was sitting with her back to me; her legs were off of the side of the bed and her bony spine was curved over the bedside tray table. I slowed my footing and watched her for a moment wondering what had her awake so early. As I approached her bed, I could see that she was reading the bible and taking notes on a spiral notepad.

"Good morning, Mrs. Menefee," I greeted her with a voice loud enough to get her attention but soft enough not to startle her.

She slowly craned her neck toward the right and smiled. The light from the window bathed her face, her notebook and her bible. "Hey baby," she replied over her shoulder followed by a clearing of her throat. Her voice still had the cobblestones of early morning in it; I could tell I was the first person she'd spoken to since awakening. She kept her face sideways; the perfect outline of her distinct silhouette was like some work of art.

"It looks like your fevers went away. How do you feel?"

"I feel a whole lot better, Dr. Manning. I sure do." I walked around to face her and leaned on the window sill. She seemed to like this gesture, and let me know that by putting down her pen to give me her undivided attention.

"Your lab tests look much better, too. The white blood cells are now back to normal, and your sodium level--you know, the salt in your blood--is back to where it should be."

She closed her eyes and patted her hand on the onion skin pages of her open bible. Her head nodded slowly as face grew distant and peaceful. I stood there waiting because I've been working at Grady long enough to know that Mrs. Menefee was in some quiet spiritual place.

Finally she opened her eyes and looked straight in my direction. She cleared her throat again and spoke, carefully and deliberately. "And it came to pass."

I furrowed my brow, unsure of to what she was referring. "Beg pardon?"

"And it came to pass," she repeated as if she thought I didn't hear her. "And it came to pass."

I waited for her to go on. When she closed her eyes and didn't say anything more, I decided to gain clarity.

"Is that what you were reading this morning? In the bible?"

With her eyes still closed she nodded slowly. I glanced down at the notebook with her wobbly cursive handwriting. Bible scripture after bible scripture was written long hand--carefully and delicately--like the way people sign mortgage papers at closings or the inside of a passport.

"Mmm, mmm, mmm. That's my favorite thing in the bible. You know, cawse that? Now that's a good word!"

Hmmm. I thought of the many, many, many times those words appear in the bible and began to try to wrap my mind around which of the five trillion references she could be talking about. "Which scripture is the one that you like with that in it? Isn't that in there a lot of times?"

"I like all of 'em. Every one of 'em. Cawse every time it come up, no matter where it come up, it's a good word every time." She released a knowing chuckle. Like she knew something I didn't.

A good word.

Honestly? I'm a woman whose people are from the second hole on the bible belt and who lives on the third hole, so I knew exactly what she meant by that term "a good word." Not "a good word" as in the kind you put in for someone when they're trying to get into your residency program or sorority, but "a good word" in the context that the Grady elders use it. That kind of word refers to things in the bible or important lessons that life has taught one person that they passed on to someone else. A good word.

"You know life so funny," Mrs. Menefee continued, "So much stuff happen to you if you live long enough. One minute you happy, another you somewhere with hard times. If you make your eighties you start to burying your favorite people and maybe even some of your own chil'ren. You see so much. Life take you through so much."

I folded my arms and remained silent. I wanted to hear everything she had to say.

"When my husband went home to the Lord, I was so sad. And then my son, too. I had my own health problems and you know, once I lost my husband, financial problems, too. It's been hard sometimes to get by on my check." I thought about her fixed income and swallowed hard. Something about what she was saying made my face feel hot and my eyes start to sting with tears. Because this was hard, what she was describing, but despite that she was smiling. A big, peaceful, genuine smile. I pressed my lips together and nodded.

"It ain't nothin' so bad it need to bring you to your knees. Nothin'. I miss my husband every single day. My son, too. But I got my daughter and she good to me. She is. And today, I got my health, too. You know, I also got faith. A lot of faith, you know cawse no matter what it is, I always remember them words. Those five words."

I drew in a deep breath and took her cue. "And it came to pass."

"And it came to pass!" she repeated with a joyful cackle. She folded her bible closed and rubbed her leathery hand with its network of sharply demarcated veins over the cover. After releasing a soft sigh, she whispered it again, this time to herself.

"And it came to pass."


No matter who you are and no matter what you do or don't believe, there's just something to be said about hearing "a good word." Working at Grady takes you up close and personal with some gut-wrenching stories. Situations, circumstances, hardships, and shortcomings---some self inflicted, but many just life inflicted. Yes, we see and hear them all. But almost every day--and this is no exaggeration--I hear a good word. "A good word" worth pondering. Worth writing down somewhere. Worth sharing.

This was one of those times.

See, because Mrs. Menefee was right. Though it's hard sometimes, I like knowing that someone who buried her husband and her manchild can still look someone forty years her junior squarely in the eyes and say, "Ain't nothin' so bad it need to bring you to your knees." Cause that? Man, that's a good word.

Everyone has their own situations, circumstances, hardships and shortcomings, too. We all do. Those blemishes on your life's complexion that you wish never happened, those things that hurt you in the deepest parts of your soul. Some know harder times than others, but pain is universal. Most who have lived long enough have been there at least once. Maybe even more.

But.

I always remember what Mrs. Menefee said punctuated by her delightful laugh.

"And it came to pass."

Because most things do pass. And while yes, some things like a tragedy or losing someone or missing someone who is no longer here can leave you with a gnawing pain that's always there, at some point it doesn't throb the same. You still might cry, but one day the remembering doesn't hurt so bad. The hurt doesn't hurt so bad. And yes. It comes to pass.

See? The point of hearing a good word is that you pass it on.

That's what I'm doing today. Maybe you might remember one that you can pass on, too.

***
Happy Tuesday.


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .the incomparable Mahalia Jackson singing the old Negro spiritual "Soon Ah Will Be Done."
This one is for Mrs. Menefee and the Grady elders. . . the keepers of intrepid faith and sharers of "good words."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Camp Papa Postcard Classics: California Dreamin'


Dear Mommy,

Here is what I learned about the beach. You can do some of your best thinking there. Especially if you have the right drinks.

Guess what? If you have to pee from all the drinks, you don't even have to go that far either. Papa says it's okay to go in the ocean because where do you think the fish go. Just not number 2.


Love, 

Isaiah, age 5 and Zachary, age 3 and three fourths

P.S. Please tell the mayor of Atlanta-in-Georgia that we need a beach. But not a lake-beach but a real-ocean one, okay? Thank you. Okay bye.

P.P.S. Where do the fish go number 2? Papa said to ask you. Now this time bye okay.