The Wonders of Commencement

How have we learned to welcome the unexpected?

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

—Rumi

This past week was really full, planning and celebrating many new beginnings. 

The third- and fourth- year medicine and physician assistant students who have been off their clinical rotations due to the pandemic since mid-March start back on Monday June 1. We all are eager to have them back. The planning has been intense with all the statewide campuses collaborating to ensure a safe and educational clinical environment for them.

The virtual commencement ceremony for the graduating UTHSC-College of Medicine seniors was beautiful. As I watched with tearful eyes, my heart was full of joy and a sadness. I reminded myself, this is not goodbye but only “til we meet again,” as we say in India. As the names were called, and the students smiled in their regalia-clad picture that flashed on the screen. My mind recalled the special times I had because of them. As the Dean spoke of treasuring hope, and the keynote speaker expressed his immense pride in each of the students, the Class president eloquently shared highlights of their journey together, reminding them of their demonstrated perseverance, at their “Grit and Grind” and the value of the community they’ve created. Community—so important and so needed.

Our graduates are eager to embark on their new beginning, their residency. Toward the end of the virtual ceremony I was honored to invite these new doctors to recite the Hippocratic Oath together, as one community (see it here). I also reminded them to take care of themselves, and the University generously provided each graduate with a laminated pocket-size copy of the Oath to Self-Care and Well-Being. Self-care is going to be vital, but will only be sustainble if done in partnership with the system.

All these new beginnings are to take place in a healthcare system whose foundation is already plagued with gaping holes and fragmentation, and is now even more torn apart by the COVID-19 pandemic. These graduates, like all healthcare workers, will need to be adaptable as they innovate and improvise in order to overcome the hurdles--that is, they will also need to be resilient. 

As I think about these new beginnings, I am reminded of the beautiful poem by Rumi, The Guest House. I am reminded of the value of our attitude as we start each new day. How we approach what unfolds during each day matters.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Challenging events evoke emotions that call us to respond.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

How should we respond? Do we respond with our hearts, our hands, or our heads, or all three? Our reactions to our emotions set the tone for how we show up, what we think about ourselves and those we are in contact with, the words we speak, the climate around us, and ultimately the impact we have.

Being intentional about our reactions is so important. It takes courage to invite the hard parts of life. And yet often it seems impossible not to be reactionary in our busyness.

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

It has been almost four decades since I was in their shoes. Thinking back, I wish I had known the Circle of Trust® touchstone “when things seem hard or difficult, turn to curiosity and wonder!” I wonder if, perhaps, I would have welcomed each of these “guests” into my life? I wonder what they would teach me about myself?

Being human and leaning into discomfort is uncomfortable. It’s hard. We avoid it. Life has taught me that it is only by leaning into such discomfort with self-kindness and compassion that I am able to reflect and learn and build resilience. When we self-reflect with openness and kindness and offer that same safety to others, we are strengthened in a bond of common unity--a Community! 

Let us welcome these new beginnings with this touchstone! 

When things seem hard or difficult, turn to curiosity and wonder!

How is the coronavirus changing the way you think of self-care, community and resilience? As this challenging time unfolds, I am frequently posting a quote on this blog with a reflection prompt. Please join in the conversation here or on Twitter with your thoughts or about what you are doing for self-care and care of others. My book explores such ideas too: Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being.