How to get there from here
Monday October 06th 2008, 2:00 pm
Filed under: Life

October berriesAfter a conversation with a friend last week, I wanted to put this out there.

I was born with a gift for music.  One day, several hours after we’d returned from a jazz concert, I asked my son Richard, who takes after me that way and who was then in middle school, to sing the start of a song we’d heard there that was totally new to him, “Bedtime for Bigfoot.”  He nailed it.  He not only remembered it, he had the exact right pitch from the first note.  That’s my boy.

When I was a teenager, I was told I had a progressive hearing loss that had taken the uppermost frequencies and now was impeding my hearing speech. They had me take sign language and lipreading lessons.  Finding out that it was all an allergic reaction to aspirin was way in the future.  (Here.)

The thorns don\'t win And I bottomed out.  It’s hard enough being a teenager, much less an aspiring musician going deaf.  I gradually pulled myself out of it, with much prayer and a lot of daily exercise to clear the brain, but it was a long, hard, slogging, two year process.  My first college roommate, upon meeting me, lasted two hours before she ditched me.  (The one I ended up with became a lifelong friend.)

I’m actually glad now that I went through all that: it taught me compassion. It taught me to keep my eyes open for people in pain.  I can’t fix everything for everybody or even everything for anybody, and in some cases, anything at all, but I have to be my best self and try. It is important to me never to inflict any pain on any soul for any reason if I can in any way know, and to help if I can.

These have thorns, too, but they\'re prettySo I was quite interested when I read Dr. Rachel Remen recounting having counseled a fellow doctor, who was terribly depressed, to write down five things every day that surprised him.

Me, where I am now, all that part of my life being long in the past, I would say that the thing to do is to look for things to be grateful for.  But I have come to realize that Remen was right; her patient had gone into an emotional lockdown where he was just trying to defend himself from being hurt any more.  He wasn’t ready to fathom gratitude; he was a cancer surgeon, and he just couldn’t handle the unending sense of loss.  He didn’t see that that loss was because he so deeply cared about his patients, whether he knew them well or not, that it represented the good side of him.

She writes of his begrudging reaction to her challenge.  And yet, slowly, trying to dutifully fulfill her assignment, he starts to notice things. At first, it was a tumor that shrank rather than grew.  Then came the day he had a lovely young mom in his office, where he knew how ill she was, with her small children  cuddling up shyly with her as they spoke.  Despite the intensity of the fatigue he knew she must be going through, their hair was washed and their clothes were clean, and being with her in a strange place, they felt secure.  And it hit him.  He told her that clearly, her children were well loved: he saw a great strength in her.  He told her he felt that that love would sustain her and pull her through this illness.  She was surprised, and thanked him then, deeply moved.  As was he.

And it had surprised him that he could see that and be that kind of a doctor to her.  He was surprised at how much it meant to his patient.  He was surprised that he had somehow become a doctor now whom a patient would think well of.  He was surprised to see: he’d had it in him all along.  It was just waiting for him to see it.

And he was grateful.

My baby plum tree from my kidsOur losses become our strengths by which we can bless others, especially with the gift of time added to them.  They are still losses.  Sometimes it takes a great deal of time.  Sometimes hearing aids, in whatever form they may come, be they electronic, be they friends, be they circumstances, be they God, are necessary.

I promise you this: it is worth going through what we have to go through to get there.

18 Comments so far
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Whenever I found myself struggling through a bad patch, I’d make myself write down something every day to be happy for. They could be little things, like seeing buds on the trees finally or having an extra dollar for a bought coffee on the way to work. Now many years later it’s habit, to notice the small things and be grateful for them. It’s a good habit.

Comment by amy 10.06.08 @ 2:08 pm

What a beautiful post — thank you for sharing it with us. It is so very true that as much as I hated some of the things I have gone through as I was going through them, I wouldn’t change them now, any more than the good things. I am who I am, and a more compassionate and forgiving person than I would have been, because of the tough stuff.

Comment by Jocelyn 10.06.08 @ 2:36 pm

I’ve found that the most remarkable people experienced the most extraordinary hardship in life. It would seem contradictory that those same people would go on to inspire others, but somehow it works.

Comment by Michelle 10.06.08 @ 2:59 pm

How beautiful. Thank you for putting it into words, Alison…you said it just right.
I needed this – today,

Comment by Abby 10.06.08 @ 3:34 pm

You have such a way with words. =) You really do

saw your pic on the Harlots blog. You look so bubble-ly (my word) and happy

Comment by Qutecowgirl 10.06.08 @ 3:49 pm

How beautiful your wisdom is. I, too, have a gift for music — I can well imagine how devastating it would be to lose it. You have handled it so well, and learned so much from your life situation. What a beautiful outlook you have now.

Comment by Pegi 10.06.08 @ 4:12 pm

I think of some of the incredibly difficult experiences my children and I have had, and while I don’t remember standing in line for them before I came to earth, and I certainly wouldn’t have consciously chosen them, I am finally beginning to wrap my mind around some of them and see compost where before, I only saw messy, stinky garbage.

I love Rachel Naomi Remen’s writing. I have two of her books [or I did before I loaned one to a friend].

Comment by Lynn 10.06.08 @ 6:00 pm

You were on the Harlot’s blog today! I felt like I was seeing an old friend! (Laurie of Not Just About Cancer).

Comment by laurie 10.06.08 @ 6:08 pm

What a beautifully put sentiment! You, my friend, are truly gifted, and your decision to share your gifts with us is awe inspiring.

Comment by Elizabeth Risch 10.06.08 @ 6:18 pm

You have such a beautiful way of putting things. Thanks for this thought this day.

Comment by Laura 10.07.08 @ 4:39 am

Alison, thank you so much for your pearls of wisdom. You have overcome so much and your strength is to be admired. Can’t wait to meet you next month!

Comment by Joansie 10.07.08 @ 6:39 am

Thank you yet again for sharing with us. Losing my physical strength STILL keeps me humble, changed my career path, etc., but I hope it’s made me a better person SOMEHOW.

I can’t imagine you without compassion. I’m reasonably sure you were already very sensitive and caring before your rather cruel hearing loss.

Comment by Channon 10.07.08 @ 6:57 am

My first thought was “beautiful” but I see from the other comments I’m not the only one who thought so. BTW, when I said you would enjoy “Musicophilia” it was when I thought you were a Sacks fan. After today’s post I know you’ll LOVE it!! And what a flattering snap on the Yarn Harlot’s blog. Didn’t even need embiggening!

Comment by LynnM 10.07.08 @ 7:24 am


Comment by Diana Troldahl 10.07.08 @ 12:45 pm

A very thoughtful post! And so true, character doesn’t come natural to anybody, however much we like to thing it does.

The baby plum looks good and strong. 🙂

Comment by Toni Smoky-Mountains 10.07.08 @ 5:56 pm

I think I will print this one out and keep it forever.
So many quotable lines. Yes you do have a way with words.
What I still don’t understand is why you don’t have 10,000 comments!!

(I’m working on being able to come see you in November)

Comment by karin 10.08.08 @ 5:28 am

Hi Alison, I found this post today because I needed it today. I love how surprise was the string that doctor could follow out.

Comment by Johnna 10.08.08 @ 8:51 am

Thank you!

Comment by Nancy 10.08.08 @ 12:42 pm

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