Monthly Archives: January 2016

Lights

I think I’ve found a new favorite refuge, sitting here on a cold cement balustrade in the damp January twilight.  It is the only thing left from Meyer Library, which Stanford demolished last year in a project that morphed the seismically unsound structure into a verdant circle of greenery and flagstones.  Normally I walk right past the out-of-place block of concrete, but tonight I paused for a while as dusk faded to deep blue. Settling down in the driest area I could find, I watched as illuminated windows turned to gold and became the spines of books lined neatly on shelves, bursting with a thousand imagined worlds.

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Above me, branches fringed with silver-green needles held back the ghosts of dissipating clouds. Lamps along the path floated like spheres, their posts fading into the dusk until the lights seemed suspended from the sky — the lures of stars fishing for dreams.  I watched the ebb and flow of people around me: a lady in high heels and a glittering dress, a toddler trailing behind his family, countless bicycles and their riders.  It was like being a drop of water, watching the ocean.

My brain has been a hundred whirring gears, ready to overheat with too many questions about life and not enough answers.  I had decided to go outside partly because I needed to mail a letter, and partly because the paced rhythm of walking has a calming effect on me.  Now, settled beneath the trees, I found it remarkably soothing to simply sit and focus on the illuminated geometry of rectangles and spheres before me.  A line from one of Coldplay’s songs echoed over the clamoring of my mind:

Lights will guide you home

I let my scattered fragments of attention converge on the rails leading down to the paved circle where Meyer Library once stood.  They were lit from below, and the gleaming lines looked like spiderwebs beaded with dew.  Lights guiding the way.

It felt amazing to just sit and notice the metaphors and similes around me.  It was like I used to do all the time as a kid, before college and adult life carried me away from my imaginary worlds.  Stopping to notice things with an open mind is so simple and yet so difficult — like trying to catch sunlight.  Conceptually, catching a sunbeam should be easy: to grasp something, you simply put your hand where it is and close your fingers snugly around it.  The execution is nearly impossible: no matter how many times I clench my fist in the light, I cannot hold it.

It is only when I place my hand into the light with an open palm, that finally, it rests there.

All right, right now

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I love the idea of time and space being a fabric with folds and multiple dimensions.  It intrigues me like a song sung in a language I cannot understand: mysterious and perplexing, even, but also deeply beautiful.  If time and space are woven together, I wonder, what if I were able to loop back in time like a backstitch formed by needle and thread?

What if I were actually a time traveller?

My mom told me about a thought experiment she tried recently, where she imagined that she was a few decades older and had been granted a wish to go back in time to the present day.  What would it be like, she wondered, to live this moment–this afternoon in January 2016–with the perspective of her older self?  The poignancy of her description struck a chord deep inside me, and it came to mind again today while I was driving through Palo Alto beneath a brooding sky.

I realize that I spent a lot of time last year wishing for the future.  It’s because my vision of my future self often feels more comfortable than the skin I’m currently in…the future me is confident and experienced, someone who has navigated her clinical rotations, finished residency interviews, graduated from medical school, and survived her intern year.  She is taller (which is completely unrealistic, since the growth plates in my bones fused long ago), wiser, and stronger.  At least, that is what I hope.

While it is important to have goals and a vision for the future, I’m beginning to understand at a deeper level that they should not obliterate my ability to experience and enjoy the present moment.  It does me little good to dream if doing so makes me sleep away the life I have right now.  I want to wake up.  Even if my present life feels overwhelming and intimidating at times, I want to stay open to however it unfolds.  This is something I’ve been focusing on more recently, and I’m gradually seeing that many of the things I’m afraid of are shadows cast by my own mind.

The mind is powerful, capable of either intimidating or inspiring me with a simple flip of perspective.  So as I was driving today, I wondered what would happen if I were actually 70 years old and no longer able to practice medicine because my body couldn’t keep up with my soul any longer.  Perhaps I’d have silver hair cropped close to my head and tendrils of blue veins winding beneath rice-paper skin.  Maybe I’d be sitting in a chair by a window with dust motes catching the light.  Or maybe I’d not even have lived that long.  But if I did live to that age and were granted a wish to return to this week in January, what would I think?  What would I do?

I don’t think I’d be wishing for the days to pass quickly.  I don’t think I’d be as afraid of failing, either, because I’d know that my mistakes had helped me learn and grow into the person I had become.  I would probably be wildly, vividly grateful to be here, in this very moment, a Stanford med student and a daughter and sister and friend.  To be nearly 26 years old and very much alive.

It’s hard to keep this perspective; honestly, it’s easier for me to worry and wish for an imaginary future where things are easier.  But I know that sort of a future is simply a mirage, and that life is always going to be challenging.  It is for everyone.  And I’m starting to be much more okay with that.  I am part of humanity in all its joy and agony, and I may not love everything about that but I do love being human.

This year, I’m going to try to stop more frequently and realize that I am all right, right here, right now. 🙂

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