Our last five minutes on earth are running out.
We can spend those minutes in meanness, exclusivity,
and self-righteous disparagement of those who are different from us,
or we can spend them consciously embracing every glowing soul
who wanders within our reach – those who, without our caring,
would find the vibrant, exhilarating path of life just another sad and forsaken road.
~Alice Walker from Anything We Love Can Be Saved
During these summer weeks of orientation of new college students and their parents, I speak to several thousand people, all looking nervous in unfamiliar territory among strangers.
They are about to embark on a road that rises to meet them and leads them to parts unknown.
I try to say, as I shake each hand, and give out my card with my personal phone number:
this too will be okay. This too will bless you. Even when there are potholes, uneven surfaces and times when you want to turn back to more familiar territory, you will find the road to your next destination fulfilling and welcoming.
Embrace the journey…and each other.
And I embrace you.
(Thanks Ann Voskamp for sharing your message to your college-bound son here)
“This is another day, O Lord…
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.”
— Kathleen Norris citing the Book of Common Prayer
This day is the wrap-up to my twenty-eighth academic year working as a college health physician, the most demanding so far. Despite budget challenges, inadequate staffing, a higher severity of illness in a patient population with burgeoning mental health needs, our staff did an incredible job this year serving students and their families with the resources we do have. Reaching this day today is poignant: we will miss the graduating students we have gotten to know so well over four or five years, we watch others leave temporarily for the summer, some to far away places around the globe, and we weep for those who have failed out, given up or fallen away from those who care deeply about them, some never to return to school again.
In my work I strive to do what is needed when it is needed no matter what time of the day or night. There are obviously times when I fall short– too vehement when I need to be quiet, too urgent and pressured when I need to be patient, too anxious to do something/anything when it is best to courageously do nothing. It is very difficult for any doctor to choose to do nothing but I vowed in my own graduation ceremony over forty years ago to “First do no harm.” And I’ve tried hard to live up to that vow.
In a sense I graduate as well on this last day of the school year– only not with cap and gown and diploma in hand. Each year I learn enough from each patient to fill volumes, as they speak of their struggles, their pain, their stories and sometimes hearing, most tragically, their forever silence.
I honor our students and their families on this day, sharing the blessings from us who work toward the goal of sending them healthier and better equipped and joyful into the rest of their lives.
It is not just another day.