Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finals are over. I realize I haven't written here in a long time, nor on my sister blog, medicalschoolmayhem.blogspot.com but here I am, returning, always returning. I haven't written much this semester, online or off, and that bothers me, because it is always returning to the steady stream of words, the artesian well of verbiage, that makes me feel refreshed and alive. Not that there's no life in science; there is, of course, but it's a different brand of magic, cold and polished, where words are organic and rowdy and allow for the holding of multiple truths at once; language never moves beyond hypothesis into certainty, and of course I (indecisive as I am) find this a great comfort. Today I told a story at a party and mentioned Judith Butler (I'm sure those of you with liberal arts backgrounds know her) and no one knew who I was talking about--biochem and biology majors all, of course--and I felt a pang of longing for those days in gender studies classes and German literature courses when spending an hour arguing Schiller's turn of phrase or Spivak's elucidation of the hegemonic discourse was a noble and worthwhile pursuit. It still is, of course, it's just not what I'm doing now.

And now the semester is over, and I realize I've really committed myself to this path of servant leadership--to doctoring, in other words--and I am at once gratified, terrified, euphoric and nonplussed. What have I accomplished, really? I've learned a great deal, of course; I can tell you the three different types of intercranial hematomas, I know the difference between a macrophage and a lymphocyte on visual inspection, I can do a basic musculoskeletal exam. But what life have I changed? Whose heart have I touched? Of course we all do those things all the time, without knowing; silly ambitious me, even in altruism I want to be the best. So in a museful and (slightly inebriated, I will readily admit) state, I looked through the books on my shelf--the ones I haven't had time to read in four months because I've been staring at pictures of dissected pelvises and physiology diagrams--and took down W. H. Auden, and turned to a rather melancholy poem I've loved since I first read it: "September 1, 1939," written of course in response to Germany's invasion of Poland, but also an uncovering of basic human truths and desires. Two of the last stanzas have really become manifestos of mine:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-on-the-street,
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or police:
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the light
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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