A Poem a Day
For many years my father had a poem that hung in his office. It was written in black calligraphy upon simple white parchment, and framed unadorned. Its words have always had that sort of mystical impact on me that is the essence of good poetry. Dad related to me how he first discovered it while waiting in a physician’s office up in Massachusetts, where we resided at the time. Franz Kafka once remarked that a good book should be like an axe for the frozen sea within us, and I think the same could be said for a good poem.
One of the challenges that exists within the direction of our current health care system, is the loss of the ‘personal’. Whether it relate to the relationship that exists between physician and patient, or the sterility of a modern health care facility or exam room, technology and bureaucracy have changed the landscape of modern medicine. Less time is spent with the patient due to variety of fiscal and operational concerns, and patients themselves are often under similar constraints that direct them to look for a quick cure, a magic bullet so to speak.
It is my belief that a return to the ‘personal’ can offer both clinicians and patients not only an improvement in the quality of the care they deliver and receive, but ultimately a more rewarding experience for all parties. To recognize the humanity of each and every one of us, the imperfections, the beauty, and the space in-between, requires a fundamental change in our philosophy of approach both as clinicians and as patients.
Sometimes that means, as a physician, that what can have an equally valuable or perhaps greater impact on a fellow man or woman’s current psyche with the simple recognition of establishing or reaffirming our connection to the ‘personal’. And this can be as simple at times as the recognition that there are times when a degree of the solace we seek can be found in the reflections of a poet.
A patient relayed to me one day that, amidst the struggle of coping with the unexpected loss of her child, a close friend had shared a poem with her that had brought her immeasurable solace and comfort in the subsequent days following the tragedy. She now carried the poem in her wallet every day, so that she could pull it out and reflect on the wisdom of its words as she desired. It struck me at the time that such a simple and loving gesture could carry so much weight, could offer so much healing, and I reflected back to the poem my father had first encountered on the wall of a family physician’s office many years ago.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.
My father no longer has this poem hanging in his office, because he sent it to me and it now hangs in a prominent spot within my own office. I like to envision my work as a physician to be a meld of many roles. At times a healer, a coach, an educator, and perhaps at times a poet or artist as well.
I encourage each and every one of you, who seek to find a return to the ‘personal’, to come in to Austin Family Medicine Associates and visit with one of our providers. Who knows you might even be prescribed a road less traveled.