I work in a cardio-oncology lab, and I spend most of my days writing and reading about cancer therapies, cancers, and heart disease. Sometimes, I write and read so much that I dream I actually have breast cancer, and I wake up gripping for reality and feel overwhelmingly thankful that I do not. I read about it so much that sometimes I forget that actual people get cancer, not just numbers and statistics published in journals, and I’m humbly reminded of this when I see patients in the clinic who cling to an unwavering hope. I don’t typically get emotional at work, because when I’m not sitting at my computer planning things or shadowing in the clinic, I’m working with mice that I’m treating with immunotherapy. While I do get attached to my mice and I’m thankful for the role they play in scientific discovery, they don’t typically make me emotional. Sometimes, they even bite me and claw at me and elicit a response very opposite of thankful. Today, though, I had a conference call with the physician I work with and a group of our collaborators from MD Anderson Cancer Center. We all got together to talk because we are interested in understanding why and how the immune system can fight off cancer. We as a cardio-oncology group are interested in the heart, and why some patients develop fatal heart disease when they receive immune-checkpoint inhibitors (a cancer treatment). This is what all of my research projects are focused on, and I’m very passionate about this topic. I think one day I may become a cancer doctor, or a cardio-oncologist, or continue asking questions like these, but that’s too far away for me to speculate. The other group, hailing from one of the most prominent cancer centers in the world, discovered immunotherapy and specifically how the immune system can attack cancer cells in the body. While I was a bit star-struck to be talking to people who have literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives, something every doctor or scientist dreams of doing, I was even more touched by their sincerity and care for patients. I think a lot of times people think humanity is heading in the wrong direction, but moments like these tell me differently. I’m reminded that biomedical research is truly a selfless act of love for humanity. If you have cancer, or if anyone you love has cancer, please know that there are scientists, physicians, pharmacists, students, and every part of the biomedical research industry who are out there working for you. Day and night, there are people thinking of how to combat the disease that maliciously steals our children, parents, friends, and neighbors. I’ve heard people jadedly and suspiciously tell me they believe that there is a cure for cancer that the government is holding it from us. This is incredibly discouraging to me, because I see the hearts of scientists and doctors who are diligently searching for cures and treatments. I see them behind masculine, poised faces, behind white coats and dress pants, behind strong words and distant demeanors; I see people who care for humanity and spend their lives working to cure someone they will never even meet. While most days I just let these encounters go unnoticed, today I appreciated that there is something incredibly powerful and moving in that reality.
“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis
My life feels particularly desert-like in this respect right now. While I love my science courses and really find them fascinating, I deeply miss writing and reading literature and philosophy. When thinking about how I feel a little unbalanced because I am so focused my other passions, I decided I would share some books that are my favorites and encouraged me to have deep reflection. Some of them are autobiographical nonfiction, some are simply fiction, but they are all incredible and close to my heart. Here are 5 books you need to read and think about! I offer some of the thoughts that followed my reading of the books that maybe you would find helpful if you read decide to read them. Try to reflect on the passages and glean some of the important messages that ruminate throughout them. And just like I have to remind myself, remember that in life, balance is everything. Never let the other things you love fall to the wayside in pursuit of your dreams.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This is undoubtedly one of the most moving books I have ever read. I even wrote an entire post about my thoughts from this book, and I suggest reading that post after you have treated yourself to this book! Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a Stanford neurosurgeon who was unfortunately diagnosed with late stage IV lung cancer. This book is more than a memoir by a doctor; it makes you experience and feel what it is like to face death. This is a man’s honest and eye-opening journey to the end of his life. It is poetic. It is reflective and deeply emotional. I admire Dr. Kalanithi’s diverse passions and the ways he catered to both his reflective, literary side (by pursuing study in literature and philosophy) and the inquisitive, mechanistic side of life (through scientific study of medicine). He writes beautifully. This is a must read. I couldn’t put it down!
Thoughts for reflection: If I was looking back on my life, what have I made important? Have I been happy with my life or have I lived in chase of something else? What would I begin pursuing if I knew the moments I had were limited?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkingby Susan Cain
Quiet is a book for introverts and extroverts alike. This book transformed the way I view my idiosyncratic behaviors. It made me realize it is okay to want to stay home. It is okay to want to work alone and prefer small friend groups. It is equally okay to be gregarious and love social environments. It made me realize that the qualities exhibited by introverted and extroverted people are all valuable. This is a nonfiction book full of thoroughly researched information about human behavior. It is amazing! It has some interesting pieces of psychology and sociology throughout. It shows the functional and dynamic world that we live in and the ways that all the different moving pieces work together perfectly. Highly recommend. (Watch Susan Cain’s amazing TED talk here: Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts)
Thoughts for reflection: How can I embrace who I am without feeling guilty or bad? What type of environment makes me feel most comfortable and loved? What parts of me are introverted and what parts are extroverted? How can I encourage others to be true to themselves in a conformist society?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Okay, I had to include this book because it is a classic read. Most people have read To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe in school for a class. For those that haven’t read, Harper Lee writes a book written from the perspective of a child named Scout about the struggles and perceptions of an unjust world. This book makes me feel childlike and more aware of the struggles within this world. For a child, Scout gives wisdom that we can all learn from. I think this book, published in 1960, can still give a powerful message to the society we live in today. Also, I have always had the biggest fictional crush on Atticus Finch, Scout’s father and the lawyer who fights for justice. Ahh.
Thoughts for reflection: What have I become okay with that Scout, a child, would even know is wrong? Is the world we are living in today actually any different than the corrupt world that Scout was in? How can we fight for and seek the Truth in this life?
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Nerdy confession: I had to read a few chapters of this for a First Year Seminar class and I actually fell in love with it and had to read the whole thing (which took me a day). Randy Pausch writes an autobiographical book of important advice for living. Dr. Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and had recently been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. A young professor with small children and a wife, Dr. Pausch pours wisdom into this book that I use and remember every day. And yes, it made me weep like a baby (and books don’t make me cry). Just read it. Circle, underline, highlight his advice, even rip pages out and hang them up on your mirror.
Thoughts for reflection: How can I start using the advice that Dr. Pausch shares? Am I being sincere to myself and to those around me? How can I love more deeply with the days I am given?
Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholasby James Patterson
This book is one of my favorite of all time. I generally do not prefer fictional books, especially romantic fiction books, but this is different. This book makes me feel safe, loved, and hopeful. This is one of the first books I remember reading as a young girl (which is funny because it’s a James Patterson book… I have always been older than my age), and I think it holds some sentimental value because of this reason. I grab for this book when I need to escape this frightening, stressful world. It is so comforting. Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas is about the interwoven relationships of love, despair, happiness, hurt, and life. It moves to you Martha’s Vinyard to watch the lives of two playful personalities fall in harmonious synchrony. This book is a gentle reminder that the most beautiful things in life are sometimes greeted with pain and suffering.
Thoughts for reflection: If I was writing for someone, who would it be and what would I want to say? How can I invite the playfulness and simplicity into my life that Suzanne and Matt have in their own lives?
Well, there you have it! Five of my favorite books that I think everyone should read. Don’t just read them though, feel them, embrace them. Write about what you feel and think deeply about what the author is trying to give you. I am always welcoming book suggestions that I can curl up with and get lost in. What are some of your favorite books?
There’s an epidemic coursing through America, silently capturing the lives of many people. It leaves them internally harmed and demoralized. It is stigmatized, looked down upon, and often viewed as unacceptable. I am personally responsible for contributing to the growth of this problem. But sometimes, life has a way of exposing you to situations and people that will dramatically change your perspective. This happened to me, and I feel obliged to correct my previous ways by being a voice for those experiencing this silent killer. We can treat it with awareness, compassion, and support. I boldly stand behind the notion that these illnesses are real problems that need real solutions. I want to be a part of a system and country that seeks to address awareness and answers. I refuse to continue being a part of the problem. There’s an epidemic coursing through America, and it’s called depression and anxiety.
As an aspiring physician, I hope to treat patients holistically and with a purely patient-centered focus one day. I am particularly interested in heart diseases. Who knows what type of physician I will become, but I find it fascinating the heart is uniquely connected to other body systems and plays a fundamental role in regulating normal functions. If a patient presented to me with symptoms of cardiovascular disease, I would certainly identify the origin of the problem and seek to address it with a canon of treatment options. It would be absurd to think that physicians would allow their patients to carry around undisclosed symptoms due to fear. If a patient came to me and failed to mention severe chest pain, it would greatly alter the course of treatment and would likely lead to poor outcomes for that patient. Why is it then, when a patient presents with a mental disorder they often feel restricted or discouraged to tell their family members and physicians? Like our hearts, kidneys, lungs, and immune system, alterations in the mind can lead to a “sick” mental state as well. These problems are real. I was someone who paid little attention to mental disorders before this summer. I don’t really know why there was a disconnect for me, but I do know that I wasn’t convinced that mental disorders were real. It gives me great shame to say that. We as individuals, communities, and a country must seek to understand the needs of patients with mental disorders and try to alleviate the deeply rooted stigmas these individuals are faced with.
From a humanistic standpoint, I previously thought anxiety and depression could be controlled and cured by an individual person. A lack of willpower, I suppose, would cause a person to suffer from chronic mental illness. I am revealing these very derogatory ways of previously thinking to illustrate what I believe to be a common theme throughout American opinion; however, from a purely scientific standpoint, a chemical imbalance in the mind cannot be controlled by individuals. Chemicals, specifically these types called neurotransmitters, control so many of our regular processes in the mind and ultimately throughout the rest of our bodies. A deficiency or over-production of certain neurotransmitters can wreak havoc on a person’s homeostatic levels of these chemicals and can lead to subsequent pathway activation or inhibition. I am not a brain biochemist, and I’m certainly not claiming to be one, but I can at least attest to the fact that the brain is infinitely complex and chemical imbalance theory likely plays a significant role in depression and anxiety. This means that in combination with other factors, chemical imbalance is a problem that people cannot control. Neuroscientists across the United States and world are working tirelessly to understand the basic mechanisms of depression and anxiety to hopefully develop better treatments and cures (insert: future blog post on the necessity of basic scientists vs. clinical and translational researchers). Furthermore, we can do something as non-scientists and as friends, family members, and individuals that interact with people who have mental disorders on a daily basis.
I propose a few key points.
The first: Let’s stop stigmatizing people who struggle with chronic illnesses of the mind. My initial point was the synonymity between cardiac diseases and mental disorders. Maybe this is hard for some people to understand (as it once was for me), but these are both simply problems that happen to the human body. I had trouble even typing the words “mental disorder” because the word disorder has such strong negative connotations surrounding it. The main reason I chose to use that term, though, is that I would not hesitate to write heart disorder or kidney disorder. In order to eliminate the stigma associated with depression and anxiety, we must treat them as we would treat any other human illness: as just that. It is a disorder. One that we must fight to normalize and identify. Mental disorders happen, and they will continue to do so as long as our brains hold the ability to change (which they will continue to do so). So let’s work hard to make these individuals feel less like outcasts in the world and accept them for being just like we allare: highly imperfect and flawed.
The second: Anxiety and depression affect a combined 25.1 million people in the United States (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). That’s a lot of people. It is very likely that you will encounter someone who struggles with these illnesses at some point in your life, probably daily. I suppose that these people look as if they have no struggle, they likely speak positively, and may even deny any kind of illness. Instead of trying to identify every person with a mental disorder, let’s seek to create a welcoming environment for someone who may need to talk about their mental struggles. Let’s become a more openhearted community and country and invite these special people to share what they’re going through. Much like a person with the threat of a stroke should let their family and friends know, we must be able to accept the responsibility of trust from these people. I desire to be a comforting hand, listening ear, and unbiased friend to anyone who needs to talk about what is happening with their mind. We can all be these types of people.
The third, and the last: If you find yourself struggling with a mental disorder, please know that it is okay. Someone with heart disease would have their health compromised if they felt the need to hide it from others as well. The best way we are going to solve this problem is if we have people come forward to be ambassadors for change. Mental illnesses are real. We all experience them at some point in our lives, maybe temporarily or perhaps chronically. Know that what you are experiencing is okay and be open to reaching out and talking with someone. We can all spread awareness, and we can all push for ending the epidemic that harms so many lives each year.
As a future physician, I pledge to create a welcoming environment for my patients to tell me about these things. I will seek to treat a patient holistically, including issues of the mind. Until I am a doctor, I will be a friend to those who need me, pray for those who are struggling, and try to spread awareness of the highly stigmatized illnesses of depression and anxiety. Our friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, pastors, professors, aunts, colleagues, and the world need us to band together and fight to end this epidemic.
When I sit down to read René Descartes, it is more like sitting down and getting lost in conversation with an old friend than sitting alone while reading philosophy. I love Descartes. I am utterly captivated by his approach, explanations, and rebuttals. I want to share some of my adoration into this philosophy and specifically Descartes’ way of approaching God. I have personally found this short, concise book to be very influential in the way I methodically approach understanding and especially difficult spiritual questions.
Before I begin on Descartes’ methods, I should explain his background briefly. Pre-enlightenment, scientists were artists and philosophers and all of these creative roles were generally classified under the umbrella term, “thinkers”. Today, these disciplines are so extremely divided that scientists have abandoned art, artists know nothing of science, and philosophers the most removed from both. Although I think this dramatically harms our current society (the separation of explicitly intertwined ways of thought), there indeed was a time where these things were married and remained congruent in society. René Descartes was one of those men who was innately curious and this crept into everything he did in life. He was a scientist, a mathematician, and a philosopher. He was a Frenchman and wrote many of his philosophical musings during the 17th century. His perpetual skepticism is what attracts me so magnetically and is one of the chief reasons I regard him so highly. He doesn’t accept what anyone before him has argued and he even calls into doubt everything he has argued. His methods are logically sound, scientific, yet elegant and beautiful. He is clear, comprehensible, and takes your mind places and into thoughts you’ve never been before. He makes you think in novel ways, about new problems, with a unique perspective. He isn’t afraid of refutation or objection, in fact, he welcomes it and applauds countering opinions. He seeks the Truth, not status or some kind of intellectual superiority (like others I like much less such as Socrates). He brings together science, faith, and reason and shows that they are not separate from each other (not largely challenged during Descartes’ present day, but within a century would become a ludicrous argument in the eyes of modern scientists). He shows that we don’t have to compartmentalize our “selves” and can indeed prove that every particle of our being is in fact connected. He shows that at our most reduced selves, we remain thinkers. We possess the ability to dwell on things, contemplate them, and make decisions of logic and reason. René Descartes’ philosophy is one I hold very close to my heart.
Meditations on First Philosophy in Which the Existence of God and the Distinction between the Soul and the Body Are Demonstrated
Okay, Descartes wasn’t afraid of lengthy titles either. Often shortened to Descartes’ Meditations, these series of thoughts walk through his own methodology for understanding the existence of God. He doesn’t yell at you, throw anything at you, he never even speaks of sin, but he holds God at the foundation of his understanding (inadvertently expressed through the way in which he speaks of God at the beginning of the Meditations). Descartes’ thought journey is certainly spiritual, but it is not solely spiritual. It is intellectual. By nature, he approaches problems with a logical magnifying glass. He pokes and prods at the question from different angles, essentially using a complete reductionist approach (what a scientist). He begins by calling into doubt every single idea he has ever stored away in his thought bank. Not individually, but as a whole. Everything he knows and believes is erased and everything he once held as true becomes questionable, doubtful, uncertain. In doing this, however, he removes any prejudices. He becomes objective. His mind isn’t muddled by the opinions he has developed over the years. He takes a completely cynical and skeptical approach on a topic that is usually regarded as blind, with no basis for logic. He takes this route, walks you through a series of investigations of reason (dreams, physics, mind and body separation) and arrives at a beautifully comprehensible and sharp picture of what he was working through the entire time. His conclusions aren’t complete, and he even expresses his lack of empathy for those that only dwell on his conclusions and not on his methods of getting there. Descartes is not cowardly. He does not fear refutation. He shows that everything we know, everything we can know, and our most central reason for being is governed by God. Not because of lapse in reason, but because of reason. I won’t work through all of his argument, although I would love to, but I will leave some fragments of his work and an additional resource where you can contemplate your own conclusions from this book. Whatever you believe or don’t believe, much can be learned from his calculated, succinct Meditations and the mental joy ride he takes you on as you work through them.
On dreams being equally as devious as reality:
“How often does my evening slumber persuade me of such ordinary things as these: that I am here, clothed in my dressing gown, seated next to the fireplace – when in fact I am undressed in bed!”
On mathematics being the only reality not subject to perception:
“Thus it is not improper to conclude from this that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all other disciplines that are dependent upon the considerations of composite things are doubtful, and that, on the other hand, arithmetic, geometry, and other such disciplines, which treat nothing but the simplest and most general things and which are indifferent as to whether these things do or do not in fact exist, contain something certain and indubitable. For whether I am awake or asleep, 2 plus 3 make 5, and a square does not have more than 4 sides. It does not seem possible that such obvious truths should be subject to suspicion of being false.”
On what cannot be called into doubt:
“I am therefore precisely nothing but a thinking thing; that is, a mind, or intellect, or understanding, or reason – words of whose meaning I was previously ignorant. Yet I am a true thing and am truly existing; but what kind of thing? I have said it already: a thinking thing.”
“If the objective reality of any of my ideas is found to be so great that I am certain that the same reality was not in me, either formally or eminently, and that therefore I myself cannot be the cause of the idea, then it necessarily follows that I am not alone in the world, but that something else, which is the cause of this idea, also exists.”
Yesterday initiated my third week of research. When we got here on May 30th, they warned us that we would learn a lot about ourselves during this ten week experience. I wholeheartedly believed that I would learning something during these next few weeks, but I highly doubted I would learn anything significant about myself. Well, the truth is, research teaches you a lot. It teaches you an enormous amount about beautiful, elegant science. It teaches you about investigation of our natural and physical world. But beyond the bench, it shows you life lessons and brings you together with people who are absolutely extraordinary individuals. The truth is, research is humbling. I can take things I experience in the lab and apply them to my life outside of the lab. I want to share some of the applicable (and a few less applicable) lessons I have learned in my short duration here at Vanderbilt.
The first, and most important, mistakes are inevitable and everyone makes them. I had to list this first in consideration that I may lose a few people throughout the rest of the post and this is undoubtedly the most important thing I have learned so far. I am quite confident in my skills and that is required to perform well in a research lab. First of all, there is a lot going on as far as reagents and tubes and very expensive machines and deadly chemicals and such, so confidence in action is quite a standard. But, confidence should never smuggle its way into your mind and cause you to think you are invincible. I make mistakes in the lab. I do silly things that could have easily been prevented. They are not excessive, but they happen sometimes. The best thing is, I’m not the only one that makes mistakes. Everyone does. The most seasoned researcher. The newby (cough* me) and everyone in between. Something I have learned is that although I may not have full control over my decisions when the mistakes do happen (such as pouring a clear solution on top of a filter with a remarkably clear lid – lots of napkins involved), I do have the ability to have full control over both my reactions and emotions in response. Instead of getting upset and doubting my abilities and kicking myself for making an avoidable mistake, I mentally pick myself up, react in a constructive way, and decide to avoid that mistake in the future. I don’t get upset. I don’t worry that I won’t be able to recover from the mistake. I decide that I can recover and will prove myself capable in response (and I have, every time). The fact of life is that we will all make mistakes. We will make choices we regret, say things we wish we wouldn’t have, and maybe make choices that impact our lives for quite a long period of time. The point of fixation here is the response to the mistake, not the mistake itself. Decide to move on. Decide your reaction, will it positively impact your future (as in orchestrating a technique perfectly after you mindlessly forgot to take a clear lid off) or will your reaction negatively affect your future? Everyone makes these mistakes. My research mentor does. My labmates do. Your best friend does. Your parents do. The preacher makes mistakes. The president does. We all are subject to the flaws that are inherent to our beings. I’m thankful that my time at the bench has taught me how to hold myself towards my reactions to mistakes.
A positive attitude will attract a positive attitude. I really enjoy the lab I am in and the people I work with everyday. The primary researchers in the lab are from Ukraine and speak variable levels of English with heavily accented pronunciations. I find this fascinating and love hearing them speak their native language (so much so that I am *attempting* to pick up conversational Russian). Knowing that I was going to be surrounded by individuals from different backgrounds, mindsets, cultures, experiences, education levels, and personalities, I was excited for the novel experience. One active condition I have incorporated into my lab practice is to be a pleasant spirit. I want to be an enjoyable person to work with, even when sometimes I am very tired or mentally overwhelmed. What I have found is that being positive in turn attracts brighter attitudes into my own life. I’m not sure if this is caused by negative attitudes not finding compatibility or maybe it’s a true magnetism between positive attitudes. I can apply this mindset outside of research towards other areas of my life where I have to work closely with other people. For example, my family. My friends. My church. My classes. My hobbies. Adjusting with my internal attitude externalizes a more joyful experience for both me and those around me.
Other less important things I have learned that are equally important to me:
How to have extremely steady hands (pipetting)
How to explain really complex science in very simple words
How to walk really really fast to navigate various parts of the medical center in a short period of time
How to work a real job with real, long hours
How to communicate with people that are different from me
How to actively listen and learn
How to eat lunch really fast so I have time to call my mom for a solid 30 minutes
How to do solution stoichiometry rather quickly
How to have patience, patience, patience
and importantly, that there are some really wonderful, brilliant, and inspiring people out there. I have been blessed to live with a few of those people, be under the direction of two of those lovely people, and be around them in close connection everyday. Life is comprised of these moments with these people learning these things. Our lives are these moments that we realize we are living and we decide to find meaning in every mindless task. In every conversation, in every encounter. Life isn’t about fulfilling it, but rather filling it with an abundance of these small, profound moments. Thank God for this life.
As I sit and look at the great beauty and enormity that is the ocean, I can only be reminded of the great and beautiful God that is at play. A God that loves the birds of the sky and fish of the sea as much as He loves my own very own existence. A God that is personal, yet remains enigmatic in so many ways. A God that has the power to rule the earth in any capacity He chooses, but chooses to rule in a way where His beauty is displayed in all walks of life, from the constant roll of the ocean to the beauty of a work of art. God’s beauty is the foundation for which all other forms of beauty are held up against. It is a pure beauty, unadulterated, untouched by the trials and manifestations of men. It is a rare beauty, but widespread among the earth. Rare because of perfect quality, not limited quantity. His beauty touches all things. The way an illness taints a population, God’s beauty cures our blinded hearts so that we can see the world as He made it. Constantly we are stripped of this authentic beauty and traded for an artificial form of the world’s beauty. When we realize that all of the things we think beautiful, pure, true are held together by the ornate form of beauty that God instilled we will notice this rarity in all mediums of beauty. We will see it displayed in art and science or literature and nature or the synchronous flow of sound in music. All of these things should be appreciated for their own beauty, for their own sake. We cannot take the beauty away from these things and replace it with our lackluster, incomplete idea of beauty. No, we just admire the beauty that is within all of these creatures and concepts, and we acknowledge the pure form of pleasure that they give us. We stare and hear and know the beauty, but not because we made it. Not because we created it. We are children staring with wide, curious eyes at the handcrafted toys in a toy shop. We see and wonder at the beauty. But we know with our childlike minds that we did not create the toys. We know that the toys did not create themselves. We know that somewhere beyond the glass plastered with our smoked up breath and fingerprints, beyond the grandeur display of beautifully crafted toys, is an extravagant, meticulous Creator. The one who is the source of the beauty within the toys. As I sit back and see the wonder that is the ocean and I close my eyes to the incessant sounds of the sea, I know that I am that child. I am the one in fervent, childlike awe of the beauty that the Creator put before me.
Today is my two year anniversary with WordPress. Two years of writing. Two years of dramatic personal change. Two years of being proud of what I’ve written most days, and two years of half-finished writings stored on my phone and in my computer. A lot can be learned from writing. I especially enjoy writing about my experiences in the world, and when I sat down to write today I thought I would explore my fascination with the human heart. But as I write, I keep thinking about all of the less-than-satisfactory words I have put together over the past two years. The stories that didn’t make it outside of my file folder, or outside of my journal, or outside of my mind. The beautiful, but broken, stories that I felt would not be accepted or celebrated. I realized midway through my journey of writing that I never want to write for an audience. I never want to write to appease a crowd or get “likes” (although I do enjoy getting feedback from my posts). I would always write from my heart. I would always write words that were motivated by genuine intention. For this reason, sometimes many weeks go by before I write. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote about in “The Philosophy of Composition” that all stories are premeditated with the end in mind, that no stories occur out of divine inspiration. I disagree though. I am convinced that some of the most beautiful works of literature were inspired purely by the capacity to write and the want to do it. Not all writings were designed to deliver a purpose. Not all words were methodically placed together to convey a message, at least one that was anticipated beforehand. This makes me feel as if one of the purest forms of art has been reduced to pushing an agenda. And I just can’t believe it. I truly think some words, at least my own, are inspired by an intent to write. Not an intent to satisfy the reader.
But I think of those flawed, puzzling pieces of my writings that remain unread by those other than my own eyes. I think of the times I have started writing and ended prematurely. I think of the times I imagine writing something that would be moving, exciting, celebrated. And then I stop, and insecurity floods in. I am not a writer. Many times, I hide what I write.
I think human behavior can relate to the way I view my own stories and compositions. The good pieces are always published. They are always on display for others to read. Everyone has access to what I view as my more polished writings. But the faulty ones, the less perfect ones, they are hidden for my own eyes to see.
Humans are flawed.
We are all flawed. Yet we try, so diligently, to create a flawless image in the eyes of others. We are all guilty of this. Myself most definitely included. We paint pictures on social media of lives that are full of happiness and success. We post images of our friends, our husbands, our beautiful homes and cute outfits. We attend church and sing songs that portray a life that is without pain, without suffering. We chat with our friends about all of the good things that are happening in our lives.
But all human lives are flawed.
And I truly think that if we showed more of who we really were, more of who we are everyday, day in and day out, that we would be a freer human race. Humans weren’t created to experience pure joy. We shouldn’t be expected to maintain an image that shows this standard either. We are made of disappointments and successes. We are made of triumphs and defeats. The little intricacies that make our lives are what comprise who we are. I am half-written, sloppily-tied-together ideas left in a journal. I am phone notes full of thoughts that I started writing about. My life is spattered with disappointments, heartbreaks, and very real sadness. I don’t always win, I don’t always succeed. My brightest days are complemented with my days of uncertainty. No one holds immunity to life. No one writes perfect pieces all the time.
I love that human life is flawed. I think one of the greatest things about Christianity is that the ruler of the universe, the maker of the world, sent his own son into the world to experience the human dynamic. I believe a big thing we can realize is that God in the flesh didn’t hide his suffering. He cried out. He felt betrayal. He knew pain, and he expressed it. What makes us any more human where we feel scared to show others that we suffer?
Would I be a worse scientist if I didn’t tell people the many, many times I failed to understand? Would I be a worse Christian if I hid from people the own doubts I have about my faith? Would I be a worse writer if I didn’t tell people of my incomplete and unworthy writings? Surely the answer to all of these is yes. But I truly don’t know. I feel being real and genuine would allow us to explore even deeper into the things we love. Knowing we have failed, and will fail, offers a liberation from a standard of perfection that is unattainable. I know my desire is unlikely. I just yearn for a world where we could all see the value in being more real, more authentic. We shouldn’t feel ashamed of the less perfect aspects of our lives. We should treasure the diverse pieces that ultimately fit together to make the imperfect, unique, and valuable us.
But my writings remain hidden and my flaws remain covered. And one day when someone is bold enough to unashamedly show their less perfect lives, my words will be set free and hopefully we will be too.
When I was a little girl, it is clear in my memory a time that I mentioned to my mom that I wanted to pray for something very specific. I don’t exactly remember what I was going to ask for in prayer, but I do remember her adding some comments to my inquiry that have stayed with me through the remainder of my life and truly made an impact on the way I approach my prayers. I remember her telling me that when I pray for something, I need to remember to ultimately pray for God will’s to take precedence. This has really molded and transformed my prayers throughout the years, indicating to me which prayers I truly wanted God’s guidance and counsel on, and the prayers I sent up that were viewed as “wish-granters”. I have heard this “If it is God’s will” echoed throughout the prayers lifted up my grandparents and family members all of my life. Praying for God’s will to happen before mine removes my emotional attachments to the situation and really puts my request in God’s hands.
When I find myself saying a prayer, maybe something like “God, I pray I get this [fill in the blank]” and then I add “God, I pray I get this [fill in the blank], if it will be Your will.” There is a fleeting moment of truth that follows that expresses how my personal feelings are towards giving God full control of the situation. Often, I realize that I am inclined towards God’s will supporting my own will (naturally), but I need to realize that sometimes it isn’t going to. And I need to truly, genuinely be happy with the outcome of either situation. So if I make a request to God, and find myself anxious or nervous that He might see the outcome different than I do, I know my emotional attachments to that request are deeper than my trust in God. This happens to me OFTEN, and I am definitely not claiming to be perfect (and I never will be). But I will admit that I no longer have the inability to accept an outcome different than my own. Maybe He doesn’t want me to have something now because there is something better waiting on the horizon. Maybe He wants to teach me something or show me someone and that doesn’t coincide with what I have requested. I have learned to take control of my attachment to worldly materialism and pride and subordinate them to the will of a God that has my best interest at the core of His purpose.
Let me clarify that not all of my prayers are seemingly selfish requests to God. But some of them are, and I think it is important to share with you all how much adding, “..if it is Your will” at the end of my prayers has transformed my self-awareness of my feelings towards what I am asking. I really think it has made me less attached to the outcome of things because I know that my requests were not asked in selfish desire but in an attempt to give God control over something in my life I find important enough to lift up in prayer.
Ultimately, God’s design for situations will always prevail. His will holds importance in our lives, where ours holds none. So my prayer tonight, is that all of you will find the truth in your requests and will pray with sincerity and a heart that seeks the Lord, if it will be in God’s will.
After reading When Breath Becomes Air, it caused many moments of self-reflection, recognition, and realization. The most profound of these moments was certainly the correlation that Dr. Kalanithi feels between the morality of humans and the principality of science – and the deep and undeniable connection between the two. My own experiences with realizing what morality is and how we as humans can approach understanding truthfully moral ways has heightened my awareness of the breadth, complexity, and utter incomprehension we have of the meaning and value of life. I don’t say this morbidly, because if you know me you know I am quite the optimist (insert cheesy smile), but I do say it with sincerity. There is such a truly bold connection between humans as spirits and souls that feel love, mercy, pain, and an array of emotional qualities, and the humans that are comprised of varying physiologies of biological and chemical pathways and processes. We are such a complex and deeply intertwined species, that pure science and pure metaphysics do not explain us. They require themselves and a few other important things for a full, robust and accurate description of what it means to be alive.
Deriving from my own experiences as a student, Christian, and human (surprise!), I have found many truths and many troubling thoughts. Philosophy is something I have grown to love and hate at the same time, which I have commonly found is not unique just to me but to others who study philosophy as well. You may ask, what even is philosophy, and you may laugh at students that say philosophy is their major, but I encourage you to exercise some tact when approaching those who enjoy philosophy. But first, to answer your question in my own, rudimentary knowledge of the subject, I would say that philosophy is truly a search for meaning. Meaning of life, meaning of people, meaning of actions, of religion, of science, of thoughts, of generally anything that is worth searching for. And my own experiences with this quest have been… circuitous. Oscillating between why does this matter? and how could this not matter? has left me in a comfortable, but strange, place with philosophy. Almost at peace, so to say. I have found innumerable truths reading though the great minds of thought, peering into their own opinions on the most important matters of life: happiness, virtue, God, and learning to name a few. I have experienced these inquiries from mathematicians, career-philosophers (ha ha at that term), atheists, scientists, Christians, and teachers. What I have found is a universal truth: that we are humans, and that we take our experiences and we develop our own values, our own morals, our own ethics, our own vocabularies, our own meanings, and we are all developed differently but still the same. For me, this has allowed me to see Christianity in a newfound strength (insert: Go read Rene Descartes’s Meditations). It has allowed me to see the necessity with which there needs to be God. God is the true foundation for which all life, thought, and meaning is derived. He is the unifying alikeness that all humans possess, and He is the only thing that can complete science in its discrepancies and shortcomings. Maybe philosophy has the opposite effect for others, but for me it has challenged my thoughts in unseen ways (sometimes scary ways), but has allowed me to truly integrate every piece of my being – my desire to live a good life, my love and faith in Jesus Christ, and my infatuation with science. I don’t credit philosophy with helping me understand more about myself. I do credit philosophy with teaching me how to think, how to speak, and how to formulate my own ideas and opinions. I see the connections in my life, the concrete existence of a God that no, cannot be empirically proven, but can be proven by merely examining humans and experience. I have seen different parts of my life woven into a fabric that just makes sense. In a way, I felt it has set me apart more than before I had studied my own self and values so extensively (as a by-product of philosophy) and has made me difficultly different than other people in this way (hopefully other students can agree with me on this). Ultimately, I have realized the importance of dependency. The importance of friendship; the importance of conversation; the importance of sharing your life with others; the importance of NEVER thinking you are above others and cannot learn from them; the importance of bringing together all parts of your life and finding where you are genuinely the most happy.
This has been me incessantly rambling about how happy I am to have learned something about my life. The truth is, there are many, MANY, many things I do not know. In these are where my trust and faith in God prevails. I know not what my life holds, but I do know who has been entrusted with my future. And I do know that He has placed meaning, importance, and value in every life on this earth. I see these not just through a lens of spirituality but also a lens of philosophy. Until I am made fully aware of these things, I will keep striving to understand more about what God wants for me, how He wants me to live, and the ways in which I can more fully be His humbled, faithful, and loving daughter. I can pray we can do this together. (I also HIGHLY, highly encourage you to read When Breath Becomes Air… It is beautiful.)
Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Sometimes, as a student that studies science, I feel like I have a special vision into what God’s divine nature and eternal power looks like when displayed in a physical context. I feel advantaged to be able to interpret God’s divinity and sovereignty over all things in a context unusual to most. God’s infinite powers “have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” I take this to heart. I am found out of excuse when it comes to an argument against the creation of man by a skillful and intricate Creator. As a lover of science, I admire the challenges that scientists face when trying to discredit creationism. On this one though, I can only see through the lens of a God Most High. Yes, my answer to “How is the world created?” is a simple “God spoke life into all things.” And I am sorry if this doesn’t appease you, but truthfully my stance is not to satisfy the natural curiosity that man possesses. My desire in these matters is only to search for Truth and to find it in a way that remains objective and unemotional.
I say my desire because I do not always fulfill this query. Remaining non-subjective, I will. I can hear the facts of the Big Bang Theory or the evolution argument, and I will ponder them and explore them with you. We can learn about them and challenge them together. Through these experiences, you will see that your faith in a scientific concept is just as strong as my faith in a divine Creator. Your faith in random interactions of matter is equivalent to my faith in the Word of God. However, my faith is discredited, maybe due in part to the sociocultural evolution of Christianity. I won’t deny that some people present Christianity in a way that may be quite different from what one may say is the “right way” and on this, I have no discernment except for to encourage the recipient of the knowledge to search and explore the word for himself. Nonetheless, Christianity gets a bad rap in the world of intellect and reason. Taken face-value, maybe I can understand. But when investigated, these “highly intellectual and logically sound” persons are taking their belief to a level beyond my extreme. Matter collided, and the world progressed through time to evolve into what it is and who we are today. I just have difficulty with this, and maybe this is where I fail to remain unemotional. There are undoubtedly some parts of Christianity in which I also have difficulty understanding, too. I will support science when presented with the facts or laws that rest within scientific realms. I will support science when presented with partial facts but at least a clear and comprehensible reasoning. Perhaps my feeble and weak mind cannot comprehend how particles interacted in a way that eventually led to the ability for the human body to thrive the way it does. Do I think creationism is a short-winded way to the Truth? No, I think creationism is the Truth. God spoke life into me, and into you, and into every plant and animal, and living being on the earth. I believe this because it is seen clearly to me. I see beauty in life. I don’t see discrete (but abstract, in a way) collisions of matter that came together explaining what we know today about biology and biochemistry. Life is too complex, and inconceivably amazing, for me to settle with that lacking answer.
But if you believe we were made in this way, I don’t mock you or undermine your intellect or belief. I just challenge you to search for Truth in other ways. Tunnel-visioning belief is belief built on rocky ground. Explore creationism. Try to see life through my perspective. If you saw beauty in the way topoisomerase is signaled to start assisting DNA for replication the same way I do, I promise your life would be more meaningful and utterly inspiring. I don’t love God because He makes my life more meaningful and utterly inspiring, because I love God my life is more meaningful and utterly inspiring. God’s divine intervention is evident through so many things. Aside from tangible things like the ability to survive and complex cellular biological processes, nontangible things like the feeling of being embraced or laughing uncontrollably are indicators that someone out there loves us more than particles colliding can provide to explain. Human cognition and consciousness gives me faith in Someone more powerful and of higher capacity than me. Someone that transcends all things. Science can’t explain everything…which gives me reason to believe that a God Most High can (although maybe not while we are here on this earth).
The truth is we don’t have the facts to it all. We don’t have answers, and there are some questions we probably never will have answers to. But we should search for the Truth. And whatever you believe, or if you believe nothing at all, at least experience the beauty of life. Because whomever, or whatever, put it there is clearly trying to display to us a small portion of the magnanimity and all-encompassing beauty we may someday get to experience more fully. My troubled, but hopeful, soul rests easily in that.