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Back To School

As I write this, I am sitting on my bed, around 9:30 pm on Monday night, Labor Day.  The house is restless with all sorts of end-of-summer feelings.  Tomorrow is the start of fifth and fourth grade, as well as my daughter’s eleventh birthday.

We are woefully unprepared for school.  The backpacks lay in the exact same spot where they were thrown with abandon in mid-June.  Not a paper, highlighter, or glue stick had been removed over the summer months.  Today, we made a last minute dash to find shoes that were not ripped, and leggings that would fit after a growth spurt.  And an even later last minute dash to the grocery store for missing water bottles and lunch boxes.

Even now, my typing is interrupted with my son padding down the hallway, out of bed yet again, telling me about strange noises he is hearing in his room.  They want one more book, one more drink of water, one more video, one more hug. They know that once they fall asleep, all too soon, morning will arrive, another academic year will commence, and Lakshmi will be one year older.

Somehow, the hours and the days go by.  Where did summer go?  Where did ten years go?

These “big” days, the firsts and the birthdays, and all the other kinds, remind us that time passes.  On this night in 2006, I was falling asleep, knowing that, in the morning, my daughter would arrive via c-section, and life would never be quite the same.

Now, she is almost as tall as me (admittedly not hard to do), and a force to be reckoned with these days.  She is opinionated, strong willed, intense.  She loves animals, and all things Harry Potter, with a fierce passion.  She is an insomniac, often up late at night with a pile of books beside her, long past her bedtime, as she likely will be tonight.  I can hear the sound of the pages turning now.

In the same blink of an eye, she will be twenty-one, an adult, no longer needing us in the same ways. And so tonight, I forgive her for calling out “mommy,” yet one more time, recognizing that one day I will ache for her to call out for me.

Tonight is a big night for me too.  Tomorrow, just like the kids, I also go back to school.  About six months ago, I applied to, and was accepted into the Narrative Medicine graduate studies program at Columbia University.  Thanks to modern technology, I am joining a global, multi-disciplinary cohort of other physicians, nurses, social workers, and writers, to deepen our understanding of how story telling and the practice of medicine intersect.  We will learn to be better tellers and recipients of stories, in turn making us more empathic, and effective, physicians for our patients.

It has been a long time since I have been in school, and just like Lakshmi and Rohan, I am a mix of uneasy, excited, and nervous.  I feel familiar feelings of self-doubt, along with ideas and big dreams of where this new path may lead.  I struggle to figure out how to record videos and post replies on the discussion threads, and wonder how I will get my homework done on time.

Indeed, time passes, but so much of our feeling, our experience, is timeless and universal.

I struggle with how to wrap this post up–because tonight feels like an open ended beginning.  Sitting down with all of you here, writing, watching the words emerge without knowing where they will lead, allows me to feel a little more grounded, a little more trusting, that somehow all of us find our way.  The words also make life real, documented, in a way that feels important, and also makes clear the privilege, responsibility, blessing that all of this is–education, health, life, and our connectedness.

Hopefully, in the morning, we will all do something good with what we are given.

With gratitude, Monisha


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