It’s my birthday today. I am 41. How did that happen? In the mirror I can see silver in my hair. It shines like the gold my hair used to resemble, when I was seven and the world was a magical, beautiful place. Now the sparkle in my tangles reflects the life I have led until now, the highs and the lows, the love and the pain. It becomes steel that guards me until the workday ends, and I come home to my safety.
When I get home from a long shift these days my head aches with the stories of others. It used to be that my heart was shielded by a wall that I erected, when I worked as an ambulance medic through times of terrorism and fear in Israel. I built that barricade when I realized how soft and sweet I was, how young and innocent, trusting and naïve. I kept it up so that no one could interpret my emotion as weakness; I girded myself against judgement. That fence around my heart became a dense thicket that kept the reality of medicine at bay; it forced the daggers of others’ suffering to turn away from injuring my soul.
When I became a mother, my carefully constructed mechanisms for shelter crumbled. Exposed, I could no longer hide behind my shields. I had to become open, available, unguarded. My children needed access to all of me, so the armour fell away with a shiver.
Now, I am defenceless. I am vulnerable. My patients’ pain finds its’ way into me, and though I may not show it nor feel it during the moments I care for them, their journeys weave silver tendrils into the twists of my ponytail.
So, here I am at 41, and the weight of my life’s choices sit heavy on my heart. I know I do what I do because I am good at it, and it makes a difference in peoples’ lives. I save lives. But I also change lives. I am the face they see when a diagnosis is given. It’s my voice that echoes in their nightmares. It’s my hand that sits hot on their shoulder as I give a life sentence. They meet me once, and I destroy their souls. I know, it’s not me, I don’t cause the illness. But I introduce them to their destiny. In so doing, I chip away bit by bit at the parts of me that still believe in a higher power. Every time I see a young person, an innocent, struck down with the lightning of fatal illness, I question. When I read a radiology report of a new ovarian cancer in a thirty year old mother of three, I feel sick; when I used to raise my eyes to a heaven and ask why, I now look inside and wonder who I was asking to begin with.
41. At the cusp of losing my faith, at the cusp of gaining my faith. It seems that life is not what I thought when I was seven. It’s not simple. And sometimes I wonder what it is at all? Does what we do each day matter? When I ask myself those things I feel a real fear, that all that I believed and all that mattered to me meant nothing.
Then, I look at my children. My incredible, spectacular, interesting, innocent kids. And I remember – they came from somewhere. Somehow. They make 41 the best age of my life.