Twilight fell, not as a curtain, but as an enveloping tunnel in a pewter cloud, as my wilting blood pressure could no longer sustain vision. At the end of the tunnel was my childhood dog Sukie, gazing at me with indifference. Sukie was always emotionally unavailable.
I was ready to move down the tunnel, scanning my cortical hard drive for all the questions I wanted to ask God about his/her/its illogic, when I heard an indistinct voice drawing me back. Hurriedly, I shouted to Sukie “what does it all mean?”. Sukie answered (as dogs always talk in these situations) “don’t quit.”
At that point I understood the voice behind me. “Namaste”. Sculpt Yoga was over. I wasn’t going to die, and I knew the secret to life.
This last week in the office I saw a woman who has worked in her office for 35 years, and a man who has been in his machine shop for 54 years. While our culture celebrates entertainment stars and athletes, I see those feats of private endurance in the office and the shop as more heroic. Showing up is a highly underrated skill.
Being smart and talented certainly helps in life, especially if you are a theoretical physicist. But very few roles or jobs in life require superior intelligence. Mine doesn’t. I took three different I.Q. tests as part of a psychology experiment in med school. “Genius you’re not,” they told me, “but you’ve got enough. Motivation is the whole show anyway.” Gee thanks.
I started my career path 44 years ago, and I’ve never felt the concepts or course materials were particularly difficult. It was the anxious grinding of premed, the sheer volume of work in med school, and the physical and emotional endurance test of residency that caused so many brilliant and talented people to fall. And the tests, always tests, even now tests, that were and are more akin to digging trenches than intellectual gymnastics.
Can you survive being sued, having a procedure fail, or endure the wrath of an angry patient or family? Do you quit, or suck it up and get better? These aren’t calculus questions. This is basic human gut check.
Greatness is available to all of us. It is a quadriplegic who refuses the designation of disabled. It is the 63-year-old woman who cares for seven foster children—people who won’t quit and won’t quit on others.
Perhaps most importantly, we can’t quit learning—new material, new skills, new ideas. While much of aging is inevitable, when we quit raging against the dying of the light, others see us as old and irrelevant.
I live, for now, with Sukie’s wisdom, at least until the next Sculpt Yoga class.
I don’t know how much wisdom I can take.
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