Pulling Up the Bootstraps

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the anxiety, anger, and sadness I’ve felt since the 45th president of the US took office. It blows my mind how quick he began attacking:

  • Women: protection against discrimination, protection against violence, access to health care, freedom of choice
  • Everyone who needs health care and isn’t floating in money (aka most people): affordable health insurance, access to health care, security for those most in need of care
  • Immigrants: melting pot
  • Native Americans: protection of their land, respect of their culture
  • Americans living abroad: ambassadors, protection of foreign service officers abroad and American expatriates
  • The media: transparency, truth
  • Science: climate change (um, like come on…must we really repeat the “Earth is round” history?)…

…the list grows with each passing hour.

I went to the Women’s March in Montpelier on January 21. It was inspiring to see so many people energized to fight for human rights. But, I wondered, “Are we too late? Where were we between August and November 2016?”

The answer came in a common phrase:

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.

America has never been perfect. We were founded by people who were fleeing oppression, who in turn stole land from the people already here. We won independence proclaiming high ideals, but enslaved millions of people, conquered others, and fought dirty wars with our southern neighbors and across the globe. We ended up a world power, but we still fell short of our ideals—all people in this country do not have equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Imperfect America has always strived to be better. We eliminated slavery, we changed legislation to give all citizens the right to vote, we’ve made net improvements in the rights of all minorities and women in this country, we’ve made progress protecting the rights of the LGBTQIA community; we’ve achieved many other wonderful things. But what we’ve done is not enough.

After much contemplation, I am certain that we are not too late. Perhaps Trump’s election was a necessary evil. It made me fall to dark places. And in the dark, I saw so clearly what had been easy to ignore in the gloom of modern America. In recent times, I and many people like me have been lethargic. We plodded along accepting what is even though it is not good enough.

The 2017 inauguration woke me. I saw the stars. And I’ve joined the struggle to improve this Nation. Regretfully, like a large mass starting from rest, I’m off to a slow start. I’m still not entirely sure what my role is and will be, but I know I have one.

On one hand, I’m already doing good work. I’m forging along on the Doctorhood Quest because my vision of delivering primary care services to underserved populations only becomes more vivid as the days pass. I will not let a man with disregard for the life and wellbeing of others allow millions of people to be cut off from the health care services they need and deserve. Also, in my current professional life, I help ensure that homeless young adults and at risk youth have the resources they need to build their own success. On the other hand, I know that I must do more than just study and work.

I have some ideas for action. Small stepping stones. I do not know where exactly I’ll end up or how my rejuvenated commitment to improving my country will unfold. All I know is that America has never chosen the easy path, but we are brave. I’m brave. It’s time to pull up those bootstraps, not just to elevate myself, but also as many as will come with me.

I’m proud that the momentum of the Women’s March has, thus far, translated into sustained action to fight for human rights. Let us stay together and be strong. Let us not leave anyone behind or push anyone who is part of us down. Let us continue to not only talk, but also do. As Margret Mead put it:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

So my question, what are you going to do?

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Winter In Vermont

Winter is defined by suffocating darkness. The sun rises hours after me and sets long before my work is done. The haze of dawn seems barely brushed from the sky before the long shadows of dusk push back the sunlight. But, despite short days, Vermont winters are beautiful and perhaps one of its key features.

When you enter the woods they are silent, not like a tomb, but like someone holding her breath. Frozen until spring comes. The snow crunches under your feet and the trees crackle, almost frozen. Sometimes the trees freeze, and when that happens their limbs splinter as whole colonies of cells explode.

On days when it snows, the daylight softens to the gray of twilight. Sometimes the wind drives the snow sideways like pellets, and other times the air is so still you can hear the snowflakes alight on your coat. The mist of snowflakes spreads a feeling of sleepiness. The animals find cover under the evergreens, and I settle by the fire when my hat and boots are soaked through from walking in the snow.

Sometimes it is too cold to snow. On those crystal days the air is so clear you can see the distant rounded mountaintops acutely, figures outlined harshly by the sky. The air freezes your nose hairs with each inhale. The wind gives you brain-freeze when it collides with the small patch of skin between your scarf and your hat. It is unbearable to take off your mittens because of the burning and numbness the air causes, so you simply learn how to navigate outdoor life with padded hands. On the coldest days, it’s a fight to stay warm. I must sleep under a pile of blankets. But, frozen days are good days.

The cold protects and preserves Vermont. The threat of harsh winters prevents people from moving here and therefore it ensures there is space for the streams that meander through expansive forests. The heavy frost and ice storms keep the mossy hollows and fern-blanketed forests safe from bulldozers, houses, pavement, grass, and hoards of people and their pets.

Other places have launched themselves into a more modern era with blind enthusiasm and as if shot by a catapult. But the cold makes one lethargic. Vermont is undoubtedly part of the modern world. But, we Vermonters enjoy new technology without thinking it necessary to replace the woods. We are happy to embrace the innovations of lifestyle and thinking that come, and yet we hesitate. And I think our tendency to pause comes from having weathered so many winters. We know what true silence is—it’s the forest on the coldest day of the year when the gray of morning almost shakes hands with the gray of evening.

Once you’ve encountered a truly silent place it stays with you. Unforgettable. No matter where you go the vividness of the place where you found complete silence comes to mind from time to time. And you realize that silence is invaluable and scarce. And you find yourself taking a moment to stop because you know deep-down that anything that would destroy the places where there is silence is terrible.

The Doctorhood Quest

It seems timely to quote Carrie Fisher, who said:

Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.

That’s a decent summary of how I try to live. Going to Paraguay was a leap, but a longer jump is starting my quest to be a doctor. Becoming a doctor is a 7-year commitment at its least, and it’s looking more like 10 years for me. What a trip to start in my late 20s, don’t you think?

Can you imagine striving for 10 years even though there is a real possibility of losing your way at each turn?

I’m not sure if I can picture it. I’m not certain the path is clear to me, but I’m going for it anyway…because my end goal and vision are vivid. Fear and confidence. They go hand-in-hand. They balance each other. When one is strong, it is wise to foster the other.

I wonder every day if dedicating myself to becoming a doctor is what I should be doing right now. It’s not exactly doubt that makes me wonder, but more of a need for reflection. Ten years is a long time. It’s a little more than a third of my life so far. It might drive some people crazy constantly questioning themselves, but I’m comfortable with the uncertainty. You see, I’ve learned that doing things that initially make me uneasy usually yields the best outcomes.

It is easy to fall into a routine and a pattern. The path of least resistance is to continue along whatever path you’re on—Newton: an object in motion stays in motion along a straight line unless a force acts upon it. It is hard to stop and go and change direction. But, I like challenge. Sometimes I rest, but most often I act as my own force and alter my own direction.

I started the doctorhood quest back in May 2016. That’s when I took my first “real” science classes. But, I’ve known since 2014 that I’d be a doctor someday. Why such a delay? Life. The doctorhood quest is not about speed. It’s about endurance. I know I’ll reach the grail. I know that when I do, I will be happy to dedicate myself to medicine and improving the world in my small way. But the word for the doctorhood quest is “patience.” There are plenty of people who need healing today and there will be plenty tomorrow and the next day. Right now, I’m learning and doing the small things I can. When it’s my turn to heal, I’ll be ready.

Happy Holidays

Spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year in another country and without your family for a few years and you’ll return with a whole new perspective about the holidays. I promise. I know. I did it.

You end up seeing clearly all the things you love about your holiday traditions. You also realize that the stress that often comes with the holidays is not required. The tension is something you add to the mix for a host of reasons, but is not inherent to the holidays.

Leaving the stress at the door is great, and I was only able to do it because I took a sabbatical. During my break, I had plenty of time to ponder all the things I love about the holidays, but especially Christmas with my family.

Top of the list was seeing everyone. This Christmas was special because I met my baby niece for the first time. She’s little and cute and the first of her generation in our family—needlessly to say she was the star. I also saw my brothers after over two years. Two years is a long time. The last time I saw them, one was in high school and the other was in college. They both graduated those occupations in May 2014. I left January 2014. Wow. Crazy, right? They both are taller than I remembered, and the younger is a giant. GIANT.

A close second is the food. I do Christmas Eve at my mom’s and Christmas Day as my dad’s. Both of my parents are fantastic cooks. We dine like the three kings. This year, my mom pulled out all the stops with the desserts—two types of pie, German chocolate cake, and chocolate mousse. On Christmas morning, we ate fruit cake and Christmas stollen. My dad served king crab, but this year I’m trying the vegetarian thing so I stuck to my favorite on the rainbow, orange. Specifically, squash orange. Some people get excited over steak and potatoes. I’ve always been a fan of squash and potatoes.

Next are the decorations. My family is full of artists—basically if you aren’t an artist you’re in the minority. What this means is that we have awesome Christmas trees and house décor. We aren’t one of those families that drapes their house in lights. But we have some great Christmas tree ornaments and we know how to place them just right on the tree. On Christmas Eve, my job is to decorate the table. I went for elegant this year—a garland and candles.

Christmas Eve we do fireworks and a bonfire. You should be jealous. It’s a perk of living in the middle of nowhere with snow all over—we can enjoy fires of all shapes and sizes with almost no risk of harm…this year one of the fireworks we set off did explode on the ground in many directions however.

Stockings. I love Christmas stockings, maybe more than presents. Why? Who knows, but it’s so fun to see all the little, silly things one can fit in a decorated sock. Tooth brushes, toothpaste, candy, tree ornaments, nail files…you never know what “Santa” will leave.

The morning. I’m a morning person. I usually get up early. On Christmas, I’m always the first up. I’ve overcome my childhood ways…meaning I don’t get up at 4 o’clock in the morning any more. This year I got up at 5ish. I love the quiet when everyone is sleeping and it’s just me, the Christmas tree, and the stockings. This year I finished embroidering a stocking that needed some love before anyone else got up. Victory.

My sister has changed and is now a morning person. Because she and I travel from our mom’s to our dad’s and split Christmas between them, the 26th is also part of Christmas at my dad’s house. This year, she and I finished making a pie before the parents got up. The crust had been in the fridge overnight and was rock-like. Luckily, my sister is buff—you should see her shoulder and arm muscles. She’s a professional fitness trainer—so she rolled out the crust like it was warm butter. I gave advice like, “If dirty dishes are in your way (when making pie) move them.”

It was nice to be home for Christmas. And, seeing as I was in Paraguay just before (and traveled 32 hours to get back in time for the 24th), it was even sweeter.

*Photo credit: Matisse, my brother.

Welcome 2017

You know, 2016 was a pretty awesome year. It was one of transition. My service in Paraguay ended and I returned to Vermont. As you may recall, I grew up in Vermont. I fled the state when I went to college. I swore I’d never return. But, minds and hearts change. Here I am. And, I’ll be in Vermont for a stint longer than I was in Paraguay.

So where does 2017 find me?

I’m in the midst of a post-baccalaureate, pre-med program. What does that mean? I’m taking the undergrad classes required to apply to medical school, which I didn’t take when I earned my BA in Public Relations.

The end goal? Becoming a medical doctor. But, one step at a time…

I guess we can say that 2017 officially marks the end of my Peace Corps journey and the beginning of my doctorhood quest. And it is a quest. A long, long adventure full of all kinds of tricky science and learning new things. Luckily, I gained some endurance and determination abilities while in Paraguay.

As always, I’m doing many things. I’m studying and working. I’m on the verge of becoming an EMT. Got my cert…now I just need a volunteer position. Further, I’m considering what other delights I can fit into my jammed schedule.

While I start 2017 as a busy bee, like every year I remember, this year isn’t about the work. Work is what I do, I’m just like that.

2017 is about attitude, not tasks.

We can’t know the future. Life is exciting because of tomorrow’s mystery. But, I have high hopes for 2017. And, despite some giant obstacles (not the least of which is a despicable human storming the Oval Office) I have some happy goals.

I’m expecting 2017 to be full of positive thinking and pep talks. That’s the nature of having hard professional and personal goals. But big goals aside, my main resolution for 2017 is to create moments of caring and sharing. What does that entail? Carving out time to spend with people I love. Smiling and seizing opportunities to discover new people to love. I know, it sounds wishy-washy. But it’s not. This year is simply about being happy as a human and sharing that happiness with others.

With that, let’s go 2017. I’m ready. Are you?