Wild Zones

At one point in my life I spent a lot of time mowing the lawn. We had a decently-sized area with terrain ranging from wide, flat spaces to steep hills and washed-out depressions. The ride-on mower was the closest I got to having a four-wheeler, so the chore wasn’t all bad. Even so, during the height of the summer, the grass had to be cut weekly, essentially pre-booking my Sunday mornings.

One area of the yard was especially treacherous––water runoff had formed a rocky stream bed, sycamore trees hid branches beneath bark pieces and wide leaves, and there were two wells to be avoided. This Wild Zone wasn’t highly visible compared to the rest of the yard, making it possible to leave that area for the next week’s mowing.

Each time I shifted the task to the right on my calendar, it became easier to do it again the following week. Eventually it had been postponed so many times it became part of the landscape. Nature continued to reclaim the Wild Zone, increasing the difficulty of the task and the inertia associated with completing it. And so the grass grew tall and went to seed, rippling with the breeze even as it concealed all manner of organic debris.

Containing the most egregious parts of the Wild Zone was easy enough: I mowed close to the edge and tossed stray branches further inward. Nevertheless, ulterior consequences of such a region are much harder to manage, encroaching into other areas in sinister ways. My dog began returning to house with dozens of ticks, mosquitoes diminished the enjoyment of the rest of the yard, thorns and locust saplings obstructed the wells.

This simply could not continue. I pulled on thick jeans and a hoodie despite the summer heat. I added safety goggles and tucked my earmuffs awkwardly beneath my hood. Thus armored, I adjusted the mower and plowed into the miniature wilderness. Almost immediately, I heard the telltale grind-snapping of a branch being destroyed by the blades, followed closely by stray pieces of wood and chipped rocks smacking into my face. Thorns pulled at my sweatshirt and snared my ankles, digging into skin. Disturbed insects rose to mix with the vast quantities of dust and pollen already filling the air.

This is a rather roundabout way of describing my life of late. It’s easy to carry on with the imperative parts, doing what is absolutely necessary to keep things moving forward. Dealing with the rest of it, however, requires initiative; it doesn’t have to be finished immediately, even if it should. And so life moves onward, visibly well-maintained while the more hidden, personal areas grow wild and unkempt.

Mowing the Wild Zone was every bit as difficult as I had imagined, but it had to be done. Similarly, as exhausting as it may be to continue “hanging in there,” it’s not enough. It isn’t fulfilling to merely keep pace with existence. There is a limit to how much of oneself can be sacrificed before the tangled undergrowth begins to choke even the non-negotiable tasks.

Take the extra time to truly focus on a loved one, to do something creative, to enjoy the outdoors is vital. Not mowing edges or tossing the branches farther in, but applying the same professional focus to whatever represents “the rest of life.” We ignore these things at our peril. For sure, isn’t easy to set aside the urgent to take care of something important. It’s hard to overpower the inertia and plow through the stress in pursuit of fulfillment.

That’s what it takes.

Leave the Rest up to Him.

It’s only been a week and a half into medical school. I already feel out of shape, out of sleep, and out of energy. Yes, it’s true, the only kind of change I truly enjoy is the sort that rattles around in my pockets. But that’s the short-term talking. When I take a step back from the pixelation of long study hours, empty coffee mugs, and questionable bouts of motivation, the bigger picture allows me to press on. And yet, removal from the urgency of the moment—fluttering up far enough for an aerial view—takes time. Specifically, time off. I’m not a robot. I’m not a Cullen. I get tired and my eyes glaze over. I get moody and eat too much chocolate. I coop myself up inside and hold grudges when the sun shines too cheerily. I, like every other human being alive, have tipping points and require breaks.

Considering Sabbath through the lens of a student, I liken time away from the books to the process of exercise. Maybe it’s my soul’s deep-seeded ploy to trick my body into athleticism (so far, no luck). But maybe it’s just a little bit more. Physically speaking, there are limits to how much stress the body can handle before it breaks down and risks injury. Too much work in too little time can be a recipe for disaster. Yes, the body must be broken in order to be built back up, but it is a process of micro-tears. It is not a battering, or pummeling, or a high-speed ramming into a brick wall. I realize as well as anyone that doing too little too slowly is a laughable stab at progress. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. That doesn’t mean Rome wasn’t built. Or that it wasn’t magnificent, powerful, and demanding of respect.

I think God invented dusk to help us find the beauty of rest; the twilight of Sabbath. He took day and night and warmth fading into cool, wrapped them up in early moonglow and cricket chirps, then tucked it all between the edges of the day. He intentionally put a pause button on the remote of transition. He knows exactly what we need and supplies it all with the contingency of choice.

I’m not Seventh-day Adventist and I don’t have a 24 hour time slot reserved as Sabbath. But I think my personal celebration is umbrellaed under the same context of a dedicated day to rest and reflection. Jesus is my Sabbath. Jesus is where I rest. Sabbath, for me, is a place that lives outside of time. It is my freedom from the Law, my release from bogs of routine, my heart being held in the hands that wove the world. There is beauty in the resting; light in the dimming of Earth’s tangles. And so, this is my toast to not worrying about tomorrow—it frets enough when left to its own devices. Here’s to slowing down, to looking up, and to letting God take care of the rest.

The Big Day

The big day is here! Today, I officially start medical school. Freshmen orientation will take place in Wong Kerlee, where we have been told to bundle up and prepare for a possible 9-hour day. My college, high school, junior high school, and even elementary education have all led up to this point.

Last September, I received a call from Dr. Ask, MD, assistant professor of health promotion and education. He asked whether I wanted the good news or the bad news first. Wanting to end on a good note, I chose the bad news. He replied that in the upcoming years I would face debt, exhaustion, and stress, but the good news, I made it into LLUSM. Yay!! That phone call started me down the process of financial and registration paperwork. I filled out the FAFSA, transcript requests, promissory notes, health forms, etc. All of which brought me to today. I have now completed registration, and all I have left to do are my parking permits (although, I’m sure I’ll receive an entirely new to-do list today).

Although I completed the majority of my registration process during the summer, I took the advice of those before me and enjoyed what they said would be my last summer. In the six weeks after my graduation at PUC, I squeezed in two camping trips, a complete room makeover, a new dog, Dark Knight Rises, a trip to the air soft field, a triathlon, and much more. I had an amazing, rejuvenating summer, and I’m sad to see it go. But, it is time to move forward. As Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

I can definitely say I am curious (and nervous and scared) for what med school will bring. I have heard more than once that med school is the end of your life. But, I chose medicine to help others live, so I’m not quite ready to end my life.

At yesterday’s picnic hosted by the alumni association, Dr. Ask gave me some advice that eased my fears. First, he said that what helped him through med school was realizing everyone was in the same boat. You are not the only one experiencing the terrors and joys. Second, he said to trust the administration who believed you were ready for med school, and believe in yourself. And, third, he said to maintain a balanced lifestyle. He likened med school to an ultramarathon or hiking Kilimanjaro (which he did). You have to pace yourself, and accept your pace. Accept your capabilities.

At the picnic, another alumnus gave us the med school version of the Olympic motto. Instead of “faster, higher, stronger,” the med school motto is “hungrier, sleepier, poorer.”  And, putting our med school experience into perspective, she also told us that by the next summer Olympics, we will have completed our four years of med school.