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.
2 thoughts on “Birthday”
May you go from strength to strength, doing your utmost to save lives and to cure the sick. And may you have much joy with and from your family.
Jo Milgromâs poem to Alice Shalvi and friends, sharing our hearts together in isolation. Brachot, jo