Abandonment and Trust

These past few weeks have been extremely fruitful, not in the classic busy productive way (I wish) but in reframing how I approach things. I am the classic case of confusion- feeling both behind in sleep and schoolwork, while grasping for some sort of sign to shine out in bright words- “Hello Anna I am your major! Your future career! Your summer plans!”

On the polar end of this, I’ve plugged away my days in the library letting “good days” be defined by the amount of studying I can condense into a certain amount of time and ever changing to do lists, which magically never seem to diminish … I didn’t realize how much I absorbed this compulsive attitude until, when I was packing for a retreat (where clearly no homework was to accompany me) I had to fight the urge to pack my most recent to do list- just so that I could look at it from time to time. I wrestled my obsessive self in that moment and it hit me that I truly was an addict to routine, never being satisfied because there was always more to be done. I had made my personal anthem one of efficiency, productivity, and routine.

My determination to accomplish things paired with an ambiguous future led to adopting an attitude of nervous avoidance, one that I laugh about with my friends and typically brush off with a “I hope it all works out!” I feigned acceptance of a higher plan but found no ease it in because I could never fully let go. Then I had a horribly dark yet ridiculous daydream that came to me one day and seriously made me face how I was spending my energy.

I can’t remember where I was, but I was dreaming of a beautiful and intelligent (ha!) Anna who was finishing her residency and about to start her own practice. She had slaved over her studies and was burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt accumulated from years in undergraduate studies and medical school, but it was about to pay off as she could finally begin her own practice. She was so close and incredibly excited. However, on her way home she got in a devastating car accident and while her life was preserved, her memory was not. She got retroactive amnesia and could only remember up to her senior year of high school. Her diploma from *insert ivy league name* (this was a daydream after all) meant nothing and she was overcome with debt and no way to pay it. So she started a go-fund me that went viral on Facebook and then spent the rest of her days flipping burgers and sharing her life story to those in the drive thru line.

I just want to state that this daydream, as terrible and real as it seemed, hasn’t discouraged me from pursuing medicine. However, it naturally lead to me to evaluate how I approach my studies and consider future plans. Delayed gratification can be necessary to realize certain dreams of course and I do not deny that much of my time should be spent studying (I am a student after all!). However, I noticed that as my schedule and homework became foremost on my thoughts and my utmost priority, everything else began to degrade.

Last weekend, I sacrificed my time to attend an Awakening retreat in Chattanooga, Tennessee so that I could reconnect with what should be first and foremost on my thoughts, my spiritual well-being. On arriving, I was stripped of my phone and my watch, left with no way of knowing the time of day all weekend. How disturbed I was by having no regimented schedule, even in an environment where it was completely unnecessary, only highlighted what I described earlier. Last weekend was an absolute necessity in helping re-prioritize parts of my life. Once I did this, for the first time I found relief in being truly able to abandon myself to my future-trusting that if I worked hard, things would work out, that if one door closes, another will open. So, I am blogging again, making room for the people in my life, and attempting to appreciate that if I’m trying my hardest in my studies, that there is nothing else that can be done.

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Cri- the water of life

She said her name “Cri” came from a Japanese plant and meant “the water of life.” Swallowed up in her large jacket she had bumbled her way down the aisle and plopped next to me. Her weathered face wrinkled in confusion as she stared at the seat belt and exclaimed “I haven’t been on an airplane in years! They have seat belts? How does this work?” As I caught sight of the familiar motion sickness wristbands I recognized that she was an uneasy and infrequent flyer- so I helped her with her coat, seat belt and gave her a reassuring smile.

It turns out this was all she needed. Conversation began with the purpose of my visit to Columbus- Thanksgiving- and she soon began to ask me about my mom, eventually digressing into a long monologue about her disgust for egg salad. The pilot over the intercom threw her into complete distress because she wasn’t supposed to be going to Columbus, but to Baltimore! After I explained the concept of a through flight, her nerves had still not abated and she thrust a bag into my hands saying “please help me, I’m illiterate and I don’t know where I’m going.” The bag contained her social security information, health papers, birth certificate, and identification. Completely taken aback by her innocent trust and shocked by the idea of functioning in the world today without being able to read,  I immediately told her to put them away and repeatedly answered her worried questions saying that she was going to be okay.

Slightly rattled I settled back for the rest of the flight only to hear Cri announce that “that mean airport woman” ripped her birth certificate straight down the middle. It was indeed ripped, although her story of angry, rude, airport officials mistreating her and calling her retarded and then intentionally banging her wheelchair around did not seem very likely. After showing me imaginary wounds from their maltreatment she whipped toward me and asked “Would people get mad at me if I had a seizure?” Almost speechless, I could barely squeak out the question “Are you prone to seizures?” She nodded and explained that she tried not to get them and hoped that people wouldn’t blame her and that it wasn’t her fault! I kept thinking, “I’m pre-med but gen chem is not going to be of any help if she just violently begins seizing!” I pointed to the stewardess help button and prayed that I wouldn’t be put in that position.

By now you can imagine the state I was in. Time went on and I found out that Cri was schizophrenic and took medications to control the things she saw and the voices she heard in her head.  As I was going home to enjoy family, food, and friendship, Cri was going to Johns Hopkins University to get a brain tumor removed. She had dealt with lung cancer earlier on and she showed me the deep lasting scars on her neck and her silvered hair, which she said with deep emotion that she “would never dye for it showed the struggles of life.”

The whole conversation surged with emotion, she grabbed and squeezed my hands, hugged me, and exclaimed how blessed she was to have met me. The rushing of her genuine enthusiasm and affection demonstrated how starved she was for human interaction. She began to talk of her desire to be treated like everyone else, the importance of right and wrong, and stories of a teacher sexually abusing her and her classmates. A lull in conversation gave me a chance to catch a breath before she grabbed my hand and started rubbing my fingers all over her skull to show me where the steel plate in her head lay. Turns out, a bus driver slammed the breaks when Cri was standing and sent her flying head first to the front of the bus where her skull became lodged in the cup holder. According to her, the man (who had connections with the KKK) has been put away for 25 years for attempted murder. Who really knows how much of all of this is true, I can’t even find a Japanese plant on the internet bearing the name “Cri,” but I also don’t know many people who cosmetically get a steel plate put in their head.

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“Anna, do you have a best friend?…Is she a good friend? Is she true to you?”

After affirming these questions she replied in a wistful tone-“That’s good, I wish I had more of those”

On hearing that I did not have a boyfriend she replied “Good, you’re far too nice to be cheated on.”

These responses resonated with me more than her wild stories for in that moment I saw how easily the woman in front of me had been taken advantage of, marginalized, and left alone.

Meeting Cri was perhaps one of the most striking encounters I have ever had.  Regardless of whether her life stories were fiction or fact, it was clear how alone she was, how deprived she had been of kindness, and how much a little generosity in conversation and in spirit meant to her. On hearing that my siblings  and I did not have children, even though my brother is only just 21, she was surprised. The dramatic divide between our situations was eye opening and shocking- I was flying home from a high class private university to the comforts of home while she couldn’t even read her boarding pass and was about to undergo a dangerous surgery with no friends or family to be there for her.

When I stepped out to retrieve my bags after hugging her goodbye I received quite a few sympathetic smiles from other passengers who must’ve overheard the conversation, but all I could think about was how grateful I was to have met Cri, and to have the opportunity to have been able to be of some comfort to her. To think, how different my experience would have been if I had stuffed in headphones, like I was about to when she prefaced her biography with the confusion of seat belts.

photo: http://www.priva.ca/media/78323/water_solutions_w940_h400.jpg

 

Anna in Atlanta

Once again, I have to apologize for being so silent, especially considering it has been almost whole month since I moved down to Atlanta! Rushing from one class to the next has made carving time to reflect very difficult, so I apologize if this rambles on rather than taking shape.

I am loving it here and am trying to take in the overwhelming amount of opportunities and excitement in stride without disturbing my inner equilibrium. I love all of my classes, but most especially chemistry-which are words I never thought that I would ever say two years ago. I know future me will laugh and remark on young and naive Anna, but I will innocently say now that I feel like almost all of my time is spent studying. Not quite all of my time however, for I have happily joined an all girls acapella group (and will be singing the alma mater to President Jimmy Carter tomorrow!!). I also am apart of a medical journal and will be co-authoring an article for it next semester, which as you my readers, few and far between, know ignites an excitement that nothing else can.

I have experienced none of the homesickness and difficulty with transitioning that I had imagined I might have. Perhaps my Irish complexion is not naturally suited for the climate, but since that is the biggest complaint I have to report-I’m feeling pretty good. Everyone here is so different, in interests, where they hail from, talents, and accomplishments that with each person I meet I feel both baffled and blessed that I got the opportunity to study here.  My first evening on campus I met people who hailed from all over the world: Moldova, Tokyo, China, Zimbabwe, and India. The late Dr. Paul Kalanithi wrote in his book When Breath Becomes Air a beautiful passage that I’ve keenly recognized and remembered as I’ve gone through these past few weeks.

In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of use can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.

P.S. Mom if you read this, you will be relieved to know that I have not yet developed that crippling caffeine addiction you always warn me of…yet

Lessons from the Littles

Many of my summers have been spent nannying and this one is not unlike the others as I have been watching three families, a job I love but is safe to say keeps me on my toes. While I am the safeguard, I also roleplay as Mother Gothel, Dr. Paige’s sick patient, Princess Leia, and more. I have truly learned character flexibility since a game of tag can instantly change to me being under attack by a band of pirates. Not only have I become a grilled cheese virtuoso but I also have gained athletic confidence-four foot advantage excluded.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most by being surrounded by younger age groups is their presence in a moment. A walk to the park could take thirty minutes because every ant, bird, or leaf is so interesting that motion must halt so that a thorough inspection can commence. The only time that counts is that of lunch and bed-“Anna, my mom used to rollerblade 30 years ago! Isn’t that a long time ago? I think it was… the year after, the year after,  the year after dinosaurs existed.”

Last week, in hushed tones, I was invited to enter a secret hideout- a sign of having earned wholehearted trust.This job has not only been economical but incredibly special. One girl I’ve been watching since she was 6 months and now she’s 6 years old! It has been a privilege to be trusted in helping unfold unique and happy personalities and my life is so enriched by the experience.

Friendships: The Fading and The Firm

Over 10 years ago I craned my head out of the car window and, with tears running down my face, called out a final goodbye to my kindergarten best friend. I haven’t seen her since then-my last memory of her is sitting next to her, out of sight behind her raspberry bushes laughing our heads off. This past year we have rekindled our friendship through handwritten correspondence and letter by letter are piecing together the last decade of our lives while trying to understand who we both are today, what our favorite movies/books/musicians are etc. This experience has proven to be invaluable because not only has it given me a lifelong friend, it has really led me to evaluate my current friendships.

Since school has ended I have found that I share little with one whom I may have called a good friend. Once the commonality of classes and gossip were eliminated, our time became nothing but deliberated and exhausting small talk. I realized that we both had become friends with each other out of circumstance and had no foundation to build up beyond that. Of course, the process of realizing this couldn’t be purely objective but although the acceptance of this truth was painful, it led to a fresh spring of gratitude to those friends that I share a true friendship with, those I believe have been placed in my life for a reason…

What would I have done without my fellow yogi novices and steadfast friends Emma and Quinn who are always there to listen, encourage, or merely share a spacious silence with? What would I have done without Liv, whose tenacious spirit and contagious laugh got me through the toughest of test weeks? Or the sincerity from the always reliable Jeanette? Or the aforementioned kindergarten buddy Maria whose creativity and openness never ceases to inspire me? I could go on and on and as I write this now I realize I will never be able to include you all, but you know who you are.

Just as I was about to publish this post, at midnight on the morning of my birthday, I received Happy Birthday messages from my friends. I had always been concerned about leaving for college, and losing the friendships I’ve developed. However, at this instant I know that the important friendships, the ones that are real, the ones that don’t exist because of circumstance, the ones that matter, those are going to stay for good.

 

Life Update:

Today, on my blog’s one year birthday, I must apologize for my extensive writing sabbatical. Carpal tunnel is something that us bloggers must take very seriously. Usually I like to blog about ideas and inspired insights, but I fear that too much time has flown by for me not to inform all of you of what has transpired since my last post!

At long last, the college saga has come to an end (thankfully). This is something that I’m still processing and even typing the words comes with a bit of shock. After countless essays and sleepless nights, I can happily announce that I have made my decision; In three months I will leave my comfortable, lovely bubble of a hometown and journey 10 hours with a weepy family and too many unnecessary “dorm essentials” to the thriving Atlanta where I will study at Emory University! I have a winning roommate and have been blessed with an air-conditioned dorm, what more could a girl ask for? “sunscreen” is the resounding response

I know it’s cliche but while the days dragged on, the year flew by. One day I was up on a stage delivering my very own TED talk, the next my friends and I honorably bore the title of “Dictionary Divas” at a local spelling bee, then I was organizing my very last Chemistry Olympics (an event filled with redox reaction races, titration competitions, “olympic” propane torches and the like). It wasn’t until my very last day of school, when I had to bid goodbye to some of the kindest teachers I could ever be endowed with, that I really felt I was leaving high school. Although my absurd amount of crying left me feeling dehydrated, on graduation the tears came back in double force when I was bestowed with the honor of being welcomed into my high school’s Hall of Fame.

What a beautiful feeling it is to leave a place with happy memories and no regrets. The rest of my summer? Well it will be spent with the people I love, doing the things I love, and preparing for my next chapter in life.. more to come!

Overflowing

“We wanted something great, something new, we wanted to discover life itself…I think that, to an extent, this desire to break out of the ordinary is present in every generation. Part of being young is desiring something beyond everyday life and a secure job, a yearning for something truly greater. Is this simply an empty dream that fades away as we become older? No! Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. Nothing else will ever be enough. St. Augustine was right when he said “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The desire for a more meaningful life is a sign that God created us and that we bear his “imprint.”

-Pope Benedict XVI (Message to the Youth 2011)

World Youth Day is a gathering of Catholic youth from all around the world to see the Pope, celebrate their faith, and delve deeper into it. I heard of it when I was ten years old and set my mind that I would be attending the 2011 WYD held in Madrid, Spain. I got a paper route and saved my weekly $9 up for four years. At 14 years old, I had all of my money saved up, a group that was going, and my parents persuaded- I was going to Spain to see the Pope.

Here, I discovered the life of my faith. Everywhere I turned I could meet another pilgrim, from Denmark, Israel, Cote d’Ivore, Japan, Australia etc. In subway stations we sang familiar songs back and forth in our different languages. I identified and immediately felt connected to all of these strangers because we all were striving towards the same goal, to better our relationship with God.

It was a sweltering 101 degrees the day of the Vigil, I smushed up against the three million other immigrants to enter Cuatro Vientos, and within minutes of arrival the water supply disappeared. It turns out our group won lottery seats to get up to section A of the field, which was a welcome upgrade from section F. We were so happy to be there with everyone. Songs of praise rang out from different sections and I felt overcome with emotion, I started crying and was unable to stop. It started storming-the rain lashed around us but that only increased the excitement of the crowd and our voices rose above the wind. Then the Pope, whose hat had been blowing all over the stage, raised the monstrance and at that moment we fell to silent adoration, the storm subsided, and a quiet overcame a crowd of millions.

I know that some of you readers are not religious, so this post may be harder to relate to. Try and take the most important identification you have with yourself and build a community around it, a community that sweeps the world covering every age, situation, and country. Take something that you have always taken for granted in your life and imagine rediscovering its moving power and guidance in your life. Imagine, just for a second, that there is something greater planned and that you can share in it- that I can tell you how! It’s easy to dismiss these thoughts and continue on the same trajectory you always have. If you look actively for your something great, you may be surprised where you find it, and you may realize that no! This is not an empty dream that fades away.