The Little Things
1998: Christmas Remembered
|December 21, 2002
Yes. I turn @*!#& years old today, and I am spending the morning on Alaska Airlines. Not flying to Alaska - I'm not that crazy - but to Portland. More about this later.
Are we overwhelmed yet?
Since I wrote "Dark Days" last Christmas, there is little reason for any more optimism. The envoys of terror have focused on Bali and Mombasa, but we are repeatedly made aware that "it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when" we can expect more attacks on our soil. Is today a yellow or an orange alert?
We are busy as can be, preparing to detain legal immigrants indefinitely, building (and announcing) our missile defense shields, and delaying for a while the attack the whole world knows is coming in Iraq. When it does come, who can guess the consequences for us?
It didn't help to learn of the missile fired at the Israeli jet leaving Mombasa, and the possibility that terrorists have these inside the United States. If you are reading this, it means I didn't get shot down over Portland. At least not on the outbound flight.
I work downtown in one of America's largest cities. Are we a target? Who knows? I do know that life has more uncertainties for us as 2002 comes to a close. One might say that the U.S. has become part of the world community in a gruesome aspect - the terror which has randomly occurred in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Africa over many years is now part of our lives too.
If you allow the news to overwhelm you, it can be very depressing. The frustration is compounded by the knowledge that there's not one blessed thing I can do about it as an individual.
Or is there?
I would suggest it's time to rediscover life's small victories - the "little things" which are within our capabilities. True, neither you nor I can make the entire world safe. But each of us can work to impact our little part of the world in a more positive manner than we've been doing.
This doesn't mean silently accepting the status quo. You don't like what is being proposed to restrict free speech, the Internet, the right to bear arms, the right to avoid unproven and possibly dangerous mass medical treatment? Stand up and say so. Will that mark you as a "person of interest"? Maybe. Maybe this essay will mark me. I'll take the chance. I love this country - still do - but I love the individual liberties that still make us unique in the world. I believe it's possible to retain those liberties and still maintain vigilance against terror from without and within. I'll speak my mind, but I don't imagine my opinion will change the world.
For now, it's time to focus on my world. That means that both my professional time and my personal time can be dedicated to making life better for the people with whom I interact. I can give my patients my undivided attention. When I am in the cardiac cath laboratory, that one room is my entire world. Nothing exists but me and the patient, and the team working with me. I will do the absolute best I can for each person who puts trust in me.
I can be the best possible colleague for my fellow doctors, and the best possible department head for my staff. This is time consuming - no leaving the office at 5 PM.
On a personal note I can budget my time wisely. That means little or no time to turn my mind off and coast. I have time for very little network television. I could not name one character on any of the continuing series - I don't get involved with them. Not enough time. If I have leisure time I will read a book. There are plenty new novels and old classics (working right now on "I, Claudius") to enjoy.
My website is a labor of love, and I try to polish and shine it frequently. Sometimes there's an interval of months between inspiration for essays; sometimes they come rapidly, one on top of another, and I write long into the night.
I try to budget time each night for a little correspondence. I try to answer a few emails most nights, but often I must save up the replies for a weekend day when I have more time. I do try to answer all serious inquiries, but it's really difficult to keep an ongoing correspondence with a great many people.
Of course, if I never met new correspondents, I would have missed out on some wonderful friendships. Many of the friends I mention on my "links" page, and many more who are anonymous here, first met me through e-mail. And that brings me to my reason for being on this Alaska Airlines 737.
In early 1998 I began an online friendship with a young woman who was a student at Arizona State. Soon, Margaux and I were able to meet Karren. We learned that her parents had completely rejected her - that good old pseudo-religious "we don't know what this is, but it can't be good" hypocritical and completely illogical reasoning. Karren loved her family very much, and it hurt her so badly when they would refuse to respond to her in any way.
We soon came to love Karren like our own family. She spent the summer of 1998 with us while working in downtown Phoenix. Later that year she transferred to the University of Arizona, having correctly decided that Tucson is a way cool place for folks like us. Karren has done so well at U of A. Her grades have been excellent and she has a large circle of friends.
One day in 1999, we were having lunch on a Sunday and I could tell Karren had something on her mind. "Becky, I have something to ask you. If you say 'no', it will be okay. But I just need to ask you this.
"Would it be okay if I called you 'Mom'?"
Now folks, Becky doesn't cry very much, having been scarred from older battles. But that day you would have seen the tears. Ever since then, I've been "Mom" and she has been "my kid."
Somewhere in Chandler, Arizona, there's a rather sour and unhappy couple about my age who have no idea what love they are missing.
In the last few semesters, Karren has been taking a part time course load and working to save money. She managed to accumulate enough to schedule a visit to Dr. Meltzer over the Christmas break 2002. She is his last SRS patient before he leaves Portland for our home base of Arizona! We didn't mind traveling. It is a special treat to celebrate a new beginning in a new city.
So I am flying to Portland to do a little nursing care and help my "kid" recover from SRS at Christmas time. I am sure Portland will be lovely, even if I don't see much of it. This is going to be a Christmas neither of us will ever forget.
Little things. What can you do to change your world?
Happiest holiday wishes,