September is traditionally a time of new beginnings. Whether it is the joy in marriage of starting a new life together or the commencement of a new school year or job, hope is in the air. Francis of Assisi captures the spirit and encourages us with his words to, "Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible."
Our three lives are each enhanced by this feeling as Katie's daughter Allie and her new husband Itai begin their married life, Meb's daughter Liz recovers from surgery and Joan's son David is off to medical school. This month, Joan reflects on her personal epiphany finding both solace and joy once again when she realizes it is what we have in common that binds us together and makes each of us stronger.
As we begin this new chapter of the year together may you each experience the power of Maya Angelou's wise words, "Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."
Joan, Katie and Meb
What a difference a day makes. On Sunday a few weeks ago, I was happily ensconced at wedding central, serving coffee and Prosecco to a beautiful and talented group of young women in preparation for Allie's march down the aisle. The wedding was inspirational. The shared love and happiness of family and friends was palpable as the bride and groom mingled their Jewish and Christian faiths under the meaningful chuppah (canopy). The rabbi opened the ceremony with "It's time to celebrate our common union." The truth and beauty of his sentiment resonated with my own deep-seated belief. And yet I struggle to hold on to it in the midst of the daily news.
I had no idea how prescient and meaningful his words would be a mere 24 hours and 3000 miles later. Gene and I left Allie's wedding, arriving at JFK en route to the Caribbean island of Grenada. We flew there to celebrate our son David's white coat ceremony, marking his entrance (after a long and arduous journey) to St. George's University School of Medicine. Although I have visited a number of Caribbean islands in the past, somehow I never imagined myself in Grenada - one of the Spice Islands, in this case nutmeg, who knew? Unable to sleep on the plane, I watched as the beautiful starry night transformed into a sea of Monument Valley-esque pillars of clouds, rising from the ocean and back lit by a yet-to-rise sun. As the plane bobbed and weaved between the eerie and yet magnificent sculptures, I wondered what I would find ahead of me. Would Grenada be an island of misfit toys with medical students clinging on to unrealistic dreams? Would it be safe? How would we ever navigate driving on the narrow roads, in British fashion on the left no less?!
Between the bumps, no sleep, and the worries of an overactive imagination, I was relieved when we landed over an hour late, but safe again on the ground (always a near miracle in my book). As I descended the steps of the plane I looked up at the sky and ahead of me was the most spectacular rainbow. "It is a good sign," I told my husband. Maybe this place would be OK; maybe instead of exile for David, as I had been thinking about it, I should focus on the opportunity, alive with possibility. I realized I didn't understand a lot about St. George's, a for-profit university. It wasn't the usual not-for-profit type we had been so involved with over the years. I realized the solid medical education they offered as evidenced by the high pass rates on the US Medical Boards is not unlike Kevin Costner's approach in Field of Dreams: "If I build it, they will come." What I didn't know was how many students would come or how far they would come from to learn to be physicians.
As I sat on the steps of a side aisle in the packed auditorium, we were greeted by the Prime Minister of Grenada who charged the students to be ambassadors of this small country, where part of their national pride comes from simply being nice, helpful and friendly (a gift we had already experienced.) The notion of celebrating our similarities here is intrinsic and I smiled as I remembered the rabbi's words. Then it began, the reason we are here: the robing of the students on their first day of class into the traditional white coat that is symbolic of the healer.
As the chancellor read the names of the students and their home country, I was struck, not only by the 700 students, but by the universe they represented: Korea, Poland, Botswana, Syria, Africa, the Caribbean islands, US, Canada and Saudi Arabia to name a few - representing 6 of the 7 continents. I saw tall, striking African women, Saudi women, Asian and Indonesian men, Vietnamese, Iraqi and Iranians and yes, even New Yorkers and Californians, all bound by a common desire to become physicians and minister to humankind aiding in the relief of suffering. The school's philosophy is a humanist one. Treat the patient with competency and concern; treat each other as peers, with respect and kindness. The message was clear: your presence here is a gift, learn from it - then go out and share. I was surrounded by a real life scene of my favorite quote: the purpose of life is to find your gift, the meaning of life is to give it away. It was my vision of what Pentecost must have been like, but here instead of 'tongues of flame' and a message to go out and teach all nations, these students transformed from a sea of color to a united sea of white sharing a mantra to go out and heal all nations.
There were no ivy covered walls or ornate gates to pass through and yet I knew it was hallowed ground. I was witnessing first-hand the three great tenets of faith, hope and charity. On the faces of the parents beaming with pride, I saw the faith they had in their student to do their best, knowing it wouldn't be easy. The glow on the students' faces reflected their hope that they possessed the 'right stuff', daunted at the task but willing to be here and hoping to master the challenge before them. They too had faith that by being charitable with each other in the work they believe they are called to perform, they would survive and go on to advance the human condition one patient at a time.
Like miracles, the rainbow, my own special talisman (enewsletter August, 2012) was a sign to me, to be open, to try to be full of grace as I looked at this class - full of promise and anticipation and full of the world's hopes and dreams. By the end of this magical evening I know I had taken one step closer to achieving it. (Joan)
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