He had great faith in you…

“He had great faith in you, and you let him down…” These words landed, heavily, in the middle of my chest. These words brought pain, they were a tool to bring pain, and they did their job well. I cannot know the state of mind within the one who spoke those words, but I imagine they came from a place of great worry, great pain, and great anger. I have spoken words like this myself on occasions, more than I would care to remember at any given moment, and when I have used words like this with others, they were designed to hurt. It is from this place of seeing the pain, that I began to wonder about why anyone would choose to be a physician, and I realized it’s because no one really knows what they’re saying yes to when they pursue this career.

There is a deep intimacy that comes with doing medical work, we get to hear things from others that their families may not even know. We certainly get to see them at their best and worst. We get to see them in their triumphs at the conclusion of a long arduous course of therapy, and at the depth of their despair, when the news isn’t as good as they had hoped. Stories of families that no longer speak to each other pepper my memory, sons and daughters with burning hot embers of anger. Anger over how they were raised, how they were treated how other things and people came first. Dismayed parents who simply don’t understand why their kids don’t speak to them anymore, lost as to where the misunderstanding might lay, buried beneath too much time, and too many words. What can I possibly do, I don’t have any answers to these questions, I can’t even begin to have answers to these questions… Yet, they come into my office again and again. Over my years I have begun working more and more on myself. It has seemed to me that this is the only thing that I really have, the only thing that I can really offer to anyone, my offering is who I am. I do the work, looking into what makes me tick, my own difficult moments, my own trials. I try to look at the good and the bad with the same grace, the same focus. It is difficult, the bad seems to draw my attention more often, and somehow, at times, I do not feel worthy the good. This is not really any different than anybody else, because, I have come to see over these twenty plus years, that I am not really different than anybody else.

I sit and listen to the stories that come in to visit me. I listen with all of my being, I listen with my eyes and my ears, and I listen with my heart and my gut. I do not want to miss any part of this story that comes to my doors. I have come to believe that it is the listening that does the most good. Not just casually tracking the story that is being told, but listening to the way it feels when the story is told, listening to the bits that are just outside the storyline, the little parts that don’t get spoken aloud. And when I respond, I try to respond to the entire story, spoken and unspoken. That is where my best work occurs, that is where I provide my very best for anyone who comes to these doors. It is the listening, the hearing, and the responding that provides the therapy so many need. It is making contact with them, just where they are, seeing them in this moment, just as they are. That is in fact, the most honorable work I can do for anyone. To truly bear witness to who they are. To see them as they are, and not turn away. To see them, to bear witness, and to sit there with them, allowing the love inside my heart to simply be with them in this moment.

And where does this love come from? That is the special bit that I work on every day. That is the garden that I cultivate most diligently, and it begins with me. It begins with loving who I am in this moment, just as I am in this moment. It is loving who I am, despite who I am, because of who I am, because of what I’ve seen, and where I have been. It is loving the entire catastrophe that is life. That love begins at home, the home inside my heart, it is this love that I can bring forward into each encounter, it is the thing that I can give all who come to see me. It is the thing we all need more, not less. It is the single greatest gift I can give myself, the single greatest gift I can give others, a loving presence in which to share space. It is the best medicine I have to offer, and as I reflect upon my reasons for taking this arduous journey known as medicine, it is the fundamental driving force behind each step.

And so, I sit here reflecting upon those words that lie heavy upon my chest today, “he had great faith in you” and I smile just a little bit knowing it is true. I smile just a little bit knowing I am able to love the one who brings me this message, and love the one who is hurt by hearing it, that is what helps make my world a better place, it is what really allows the healing that is needed to begin, it is the work I set out to do so many years ago.