Monday, February 4, 2013

Small Victories, or How I Learned to Stop Trivializing and Love the Travail, by Seth Morrison

This past week was a week of small victories. These undersized accomplishments demand no recording in the great history books of noble deeds, and I myself will probably forget about them entirely within a single trip around the sun. In other words, it was an average week. But, I have been learning over the past several years and up to now not to trivialize these small victories. One must grow to love the ongoing travail of life that together they comprise.

If you care to know what these victories were, read on from here. If not, skip to the paragraph beginning with, “As you can see…”

During the week I…

Was pleased that I owned a wool coat for a stretch of some wet, chilly weather in Beer Sheva,

Answered a question about the wet, chilly weather in Hebrew to a neighbor who asked me as he was leaving his apartment,

Saw a different neighbor, Meir, in the Soroka Hospital cafeteria during lunch and understood (mostly) what he was telling me in Hebrew about visiting his elderly mother in the hospital,

Found out that I escaped the first semester of medical school without failing any exams,

Cooked a three-course dinner for a group of six, the most people I have ever prepared a dinner for by my own efforts,

Improved my tiny apartment room by installing several hooks in various places to increase its storage capacity, and bought a desk lamp to prevent premature eye damage from late nights studying with insufficient light,

Finally got working cell phone service again after the first company I used cancelled my account with them, for no apparent reason, back in December, and called family members in America for no extra charge,

Received a compliment on work done on a scientific literature review project that I thought would surely be disappointing, at best, to the professor,

Learned a bit about childhood development at clinical observations in a pediatric specialist’s office,

And, I finally came to understand the overall treatment regimen for patients infected with tuberculosis—a subject that had perplexed me—thanks to a stirring lecture by Dr. Alkan.

As you can see, I won’t be winning prizes, grants, medals, or any other accolades for my doings in the week of January 27, 2013. but, the beauty of that lies in the fact that I still thought it was a good week despite its ordinariness and not receiving any exterior recognitions for it.

I think it is all too easy for a medical student to go down the well-trodden path that many people of letters end up on. They come into their education like children—idealistic, wide-eyed, empty vessels ready to be filled—and many leave like Faust—devoid of the purpose and ideals with which they started, floating on the breeze toward they know not what. They leave laden with knowledge they have not a clue how to most meaningfully employ toward good ends.

Here is what Faust said after he’d finished his course of study:
[Night: in a narrow high-arched gothic study
Faust, sitting uneasy at his desk.]
Faust:  Have now, alas! quite studied through
Philosophy and Medicine,
And Law, and ah! Theology, too,
With hot desire the truth to win!
And here, at last, I stand, poor fool!
As wise as when I entered school;
Am called Magister, Doctor, indeed—
Ten livelong years cease not to lead
Backward and forward, to and fro,
My scholars by the nose—and lo!
Just nothing, I see, is the sum of our learning,
To the very core of my heart 'tis burning…
What then? all pleasure is fled forever;
To know one thing I vainly endeavor…
And then, too, nor goods nor gold have I,
Nor fame nor worldly dignity—
A condition no dog could longer live in!
And so to magic my soul I've given,
If, haply, by spirits' mouth and might,
Some mysteries may not be brought to light;
That I may know what the world contains
In its innermost heart and finer veins,
            (from Faust, A Tragedy, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1808)

Perhaps I have no authority to speak of such things, as I am yet at the incoming end of the educative transaction, but then again perhaps thinking about them now will deflect me from this regrettable path. It helps me to remember the words of Dr. Viktor Frankl, who wrote, “Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” So, my prayer for the class of 2016 is that we would not get lost in the directionless mire of the daily grind, that we will learn to appreciate and act on the insights that even the most mundane of weeks can bring, and that we will not succumb to the Faustian temptation of narcissism by the time we’ve reached the home stretch. Amen. - blogger of the month, Seth Morrison