Thank you to those who attended Positively Profession-elle’s Annual “Post-it Notes for Positivity” event last night! I hope that those who stumble on these little positive messages hidden around the city will experience a brighter day and have a smile come to their face! My dearest readers, there is no act of kindness that is too small! You never know who may need a little bit of extra positivity on a given day ❤️
My dearest readers,
So much of what we usually do is intensely goal oriented and time effective; we often celebrate the swiftness with which we can get from point A to point B. We like to move quickly. We often strive to jump from one life event to the next, from one life milestone to the next, from one project to the next. We fast-forward through songs in our playlists and fork-down meals without savouring the taste. We rush ourselves through uncomfortable emotions and take little time to take in our surroundings.
“Ithaka”, by Cavafy, brings us back to the importance of slowing down the pace and allowing ourselves to wander. Ithaka metaphorically reflects the importance of the journey… the space between Point A and Point B where all the adventure and discovery takes place; “As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.” Not only might the journey be full of excitement and “thoughts raised high”, but it also encompasses living through very real emotions and challenges. “Ithaka” paints a fine balance between striving towards the dream while enjoying the process and experience of achieving said dream.
My dearest readers, as the holiday season unfolds before us, let us enter an “Ithaka” mind space. Let us not allow hectic Christmas shopping, busy social lives or cold snowy days to quicken our days to such an extent that we miss out on the beautiful subtleties of this special period of the year.
Wishing you all a long road ahead…full of adventure, full of discovery.
- P. Cavafy, 1863 – 1933
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
My dearest readers, I recently finished my clinical rotation in pediatric oncology. The patients I worked with taught me so much about life; the potential for dire vulnerability at one moment and unbelievable resilience at the next. It was an emotionally taxing rotation; it is an understatement to call children and adolescents who are fighting cancer as the epitome of strenth. They are truly fighters. I wrote this poem as a reflection on my experience, to explore the idea that the sick body is not one that is broken but still holds so much strength…strength to heal, strength to inspire hope, strength to love, strength to leave a legacy. This idea stretches far beyond the wards of the hospital my dearest readers…we can be hard on our bodies at times. How can we be kinder to them?
A bone marrow that is infiltrated, a heart with faulty pump
A leg that limps, a chest that collapses, a neck that reveals a lump
Why did their body fail them?
How easy it is for all the call shifts to tarnish the view
Of the human body…in all its supposed complexity
How easy to call it broken…
And yet there exist moments, reminders of the reasons
Not to reduce it down to that
Not to completely medicalize, not to demystify it
And so we are reminded of the resilience
That accompanies the vulnerability
The beauty behind the abnormalities, behind the so-called digressions
Instead of what’s broken, we might want to look at what is
Still beautiful, inherently unbreakable
Unbreakable are the smiles that turn up at the edge where lips meet cheek
Eyes that see the world for the first time, every time
The kind that spark tears of joy
Unbreakable is the little voice inside that says “I can”
The ears that weave together voices and sounds into life’s soundtrack
The quickening of a heartbeat, in love
Unbreakable is when a hand holds another, in unconditional love
The hardening of feet after years of wandering
Callused hands from years of work
Unbreakable are the butterflies that flutter inside
The wings that spread during a leap of faith,
when we take a chance, on life…
Should we be able to see it, to appreciate it
In all its supposed complexity
Unbreakable is, the body
Life is full of meaningful adventures; experiences that allow us to see the world differently and even see ourselves in a new light. These adventures come in different forms, at different times in our lives. Ana Shteto, a young woman who just started her University career this past September, was kind enough to share one such personal adventure with us. Her travels to Mexico to do volunteer outreach this past summer created a lasting impression on her. Let us live vicariously through her experience…thank you Ana for your story!
Question 1: Tell us a little bit about your recent philanthropic adventure to Mexico! What was the volunteering project that you worked on and what role did you play within the initiative?
The organization I was lucky enough to take part in is called Project Mexico, it began as a home building mission in 1988 with the purpose of providing less fortunate families in Tijuana, one of the poorest cities in Mexico, with homes. After realizing the immense number of young homeless boys on the streets of Mexico, the mission expanded, they transformed a 16-acre ranch property into ‘St. Innocent Orphanage,’ a loving home for abandoned and abused adolescent boys. Thus, this ranch is not only the base operations for the summer volunteers building homes but also provides a home for many young boys.
Each day we drove down to the work site and worked on completing one stage of the house. The process was broken down into various tasks; mixing and laying the concrete base of the house, building the wooden frame, laying chicken wire around the house, and finally placing stucco on the walls to fortify them. After the days’ work was completed we would head back to the ranch for dinner, an evening church service or, if time permitted, explore Mexico for a couple of hours before heading back. The evenings also provided time to spend with the boys in the orphanage, which were so sweet, each with their own energetic character, they added so much genuine joy to the days but also made leaving at the end of the week a great deal harder!!
Question 2: Some experiences in life have the potential to change our perspective of the world; the potential to provide insight into a different culture or a different way of living! How did your experience in Mexico change the way you see the world?
I had always heard that many people in the world would be ecstatic to receive things that I completely take for granted, such as a house or an education. However, it takes on a whole new meaning when you see it yourself, when “many people” become familiar faces that react with huge grins, tears, and genuine gratitude as they receive their new home, which is no more lavish than what we would view as a shed. To say that the the other volunteers and I experienced a culture shock in this aspect would be an understatement. Driving through the streets every day and taking in the rugged, simple structures and environment, it all juxtaposed entirely with our own streets in Ottawa, where priorities were obviously very different.
However, I was equally taken aback in seeing the liveliness that the Mexicans in these neighborhoods possessed. The Mexican culture is an incredibly vibrant one- filled with lively music, dancing, and amazing food (which by the way helped me discover just how how pathetic my tolerance for spicy food is). Visiting the beach or more central locations it became apparent that people were very joyful regardless of the many financial problems many of them encounter. This contrasted with the world I was used to in an even stronger way than the difference in physical structures, less importance was placed on materialistic things and more gratitude was harbored for little things!
Question 3: Volunteering is a very fulfilling experience to make part of one’s life; how has volunteering and service helped form who you are today? What advice would you give young females about the role that volunteering can play in their lives?
Volunteering is such an amazing thing because it gives you the opportunity to help someone who does not possess the same opportunities and luxuries as you but as you do this you are unknowingly benefiting yourself equally. Unlike simply donating money, which of course is still very helpful, so much can be learned and taken away when you give your time to help.
Almost the entire organization of Project Mexico is facilitated by young adult volunteers, many of whom were females starting as young as 17! It was so uplifting to see such strong young women leading the house building. Especially for young women in todays society, where issues such as self esteem and image are quite prominent, I think that a great deal of the answer lies outside of ourselves in recognizing the immense value we possess in the ability we have, even if its just a little, to influence and improve someone else’s reality. Through this we can truly ‘find ourselves’ not based off of what we look like, or brands we wear but through using our influence to propel a larger cause. As author Albert Pine eloquently said “what we do for ourselves dies with us but what we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
One of the most precious gifts that each person possesses is the ability to sympathize with the hardships of others, sometimes people we don’t even know, and effect their lives whether in small or large ways; practicing this ability through volunteering brings so much knowledge, joy and insight into the world and lives around us!
Question 4: If you had to pick one moment that made a lasting impression on you from your experience in Mexico, what would it be?
It would be impossible to narrow it down to just one moment- however as I previously mentioned seeing just how grateful the family was when they received the finished house on the last day is something I will always remember. A part of the trip that had one of the largest influences on me was spread throughout the week as ‘quiet time.’ Every morning all the volunteers would disperse throughout the 60-acre ranch, find their own spot and have 15-20 mins with nothing but a journal, a prayer rope, and nature. I didn’t realize just how valuable this time would be when it was first explained to us but it quickly became one of my favorite parts of the day.
I realized that reaching for my phone and scrolling through Facebook or listening to some music had become an automatic reflex whenever I was left with any free time, so much so that I had forgotten what it was like to sit in silence without technology or distractions. Starting the day off this way gave time to reflect, pray, and find a serene place that made it easier to deal with any hectic aspect of the upcoming day. After the trip I began doing this as often as I could- waking up early and sitting outside to simply be in silence, reflect, and pray starting the day off by appreciating its beauty! I’ve noticed that this provides you with more tolerance, less stress, and the ability to handle all inevitable surprises or difficult aspects of the upcoming day much better.
My dearest readers,
What if, at any given moment, we all had a soundtrack playing in beat to our lives; a melody that played in keeping with our journey through the day, constantly evolving to reflect our current state and mood, from moment to moment? If this were the case, what would your soundtrack sound like?
This thought crossed my mind this weekend as I was sitting on a grass hill, listening to a live performance of Lana del Rey at Montreal’s famous Osheaga Music Festival. My soundtrack at the time was a mix of the singer’s voice, of the rustling of grass under my legs, of the banter of festival goers sitting close together on the hill, of the sound of fireworks echoing in the sky from a nearby amusement park. These evident sounds were matched by a melody of nostalgia, as I remembered her smooth lyrics from summers’ past.
I thought to myself how different this current soundtrack was from one that I sometimes knew all too well from work. As you well know, my dearest readers, I am a pediatric resident. The word “resident” being quite fitting indeed; as “pediatricians in training”, my colleagues and I spend most of our hours “residing” within the four walls of the hospital we have come to call a second home. Thus, naturally, I have found myself at many times in a situation where the soundtrack to my story is an endless series of beeps; let me explain. Imagine a night on call in the neonatal intensive care unit. I carry around my neck a pager that rings constantly, as well as two phones in my pocket that relay calls directly from the delivery room. As I walk past the many rooms where the babies are sleeping, I can hear the consistent beeping of their heart monitors, relaying to me their heart rates and blood pressures at any given time. My own heartbeats resonate in my chest, in anticipation of calls and pages to come. This soundtrack, so different from the one I experienced this past weekend.
I sat there, thinking about the silliness of the prospect of having a soundtrack to my life, as if I were living in a weird Hollywood reality – I was envisioning the roadrunner from Looney Tunes cartoons, a rushed and speedy melody playing in beat to his running around the scene. And yet, aside from the very silliness of this thought, I also began to think, what if this concept of life soundtracks could be used as a model for building emotional resilience? What if going through the mental exercise of defining our real-time life soundtrack could be a way of gaining insight into our moods and thoughts at a given moment? What if our life soundtracks became a sort of mindfulness; transforming our feelings towards an experience or current state into a tangible melody, that we could reflect upon and change?
I thought again about the constellation of beeps that I often associated with my nights spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) – instead of a series of beeps and an awareness of my own anxious heartbeat, what if my NICU soundtrack became one of nursing babies, of the chatter of nurses, of my running shoes squeaking as I ran promptly to another delivery, of tears of joy from relieved parents and loved ones?
In any given moment, my dearest readers, what soundtrack is playing in rhythm to your life? What does that soundtrack tell you about how you are feeling? Could you possibly be “hearing” things differently?
We all aim to write our own story, envision beautiful dreams…let us also begin to play the melody of the soundtrack that we hope for…how do you “hear” your life?
It was just over a year ago that I had written 10 promises to myself for the New Year, for 2015. One such promise read as such; “I will not let the hardships of life or the harsher sides of our world harden my heart or spoil my belief in humanity.” My dearest readers, to keep such a promise to one’s self, as of late, has become increasingly difficult. The world has indeed proved itself to be harsh. From refugees fleeing war-torn cities, to mass shootings, to hate crimes, the world we live in has most recently struck a chord that vibrates in tones in despair, sadness, hopelessness and inhumanity. It is in light of this that I find myself relentlessly searching for sources of hope, amongst all of this, that might prevent my heart from hardening, and perhaps even preserve my belief in humanity.
A French poet, Howard Zinn, once wrote: “Garder l’espoir quand ça va mal n’est pas faire preuve de romantisme aveugle, c’est miser sur le fait que l’histoire humaine est non seulement de la cruauté, mais aussi de la compassion, du sacrifice, du courage, de la bonté. » Translated, he explains that to keep hope when things are going wrong is not proof of romantic blindness, but rather a realization that the history of humanity is not solemnly one of cruelty, but also one of great compassion, sacrifice, courage and goodness.
How can we then shine light upon this more beautiful side of the human story? How might we re-instill our hope in humanity; a humanity of compassion, courage and goodness?
I was thinking about all of this last week prior to one of my night shifts at the children’s hospital. I was meandering on YouTube a bit before I began to get dressed in my scrubs and came across two videos that inspired me. One was of two adolescent boys singing on the Ellen Degeneres show; they were performing an original piece that they had written about anti-bullying. The younger of the two boys explained how he had been bullied as a young child in school and had wanted to use his talent, his voice, to in turn give a voice to children who were going through the same thing that he had suffered through. Another video pictured a young fan of the Portuguese soccer team comforting and hugging an older fan of the French soccer team after Portugal beat France at the Euro Cup finals. It was an instant of raw and unedited compassion from one human being towards another. I then started my shift, taking care of the children who needed to call the hospital their temporary home as their body’s and spirits fought against the illnesses they were dealing with; as always, their resilience and sense of hope inspired and humbled me. This all got me thinking…we are always quick to tell someone doing wrong to “stop acting like a child”, and yet, perhaps this is exactly what we should be doing.
In a world lacking of compassion, empathy, love, courage and goodness, we may be better off “acting like children”. This thought probably stems from a personal internal bias, a pediatrician at heart, but I truly believe that children remain the epitome of hope. They love unconditionally, accept lovingly, dream fearlessly and deal with life’s hardships courageously. They carry an innocence about them that nurtures optimism and hope. Through their hearts, minds and eyes, it is possible to see humanity painted in a new light; a bright and vibrant light of faith in our world.
My dearest readers, in a troublesome world let us seek to drive out hate with love, misunderstandings with knowledge, judgement with acceptance and wonder, despair with hope. In other words, let us start acting as children…there was never a better time.
“I will not let the hardships of life or the harsher sides of our world harden my heart or spoil my belief in humanity.” ❤
My dearest readers,
I sat down in front of my laptop a few weeks ago with a special task at hand. I was to create the framework for a survival guide for the new group of first year pediatric residents that would be joining our Montreal Children’s Hospital family on July 1st. A survival guide that was meant to provide strategies and tips for surviving one’s first months in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units, as well as on the wards. I started with the page title, typing out “How to Survive my Pediatrics Residency” in large bold letters of Comic Sans font. The title didn’t sit well with me however; I didn’t like the use of the word “surviving”. I felt that it carried a certain inherent negativity that I did not want to pass on to the incoming residents.
I sat, staring at my laptop screen, trying to think of an alternative that would encompass the message that I wanted to portray; a message that communicated the fact that despite being challenging, residency was also a beyond fulfilling experience that entailed much growth, self-discovery, accomplishment and passionate work. With this I realized that this first glimpse into residency for these incoming new doctors should be about the potential to THRIVE during the upcoming years, and not merely survive the experience. I excitedly struck out the word “survive” with a thick red line, allowing the reader to still see what was written beneath it so that they too could contrast the meaning of the two words, and wrote out “thrive” just above.
I felt an odd sense of self-empowerment in this act. I realized that figuring out this title had allowed my own feelings on the matter to surface. We all too often focus on merely “surviving” or getting through the challenges that life presents us with. Yet, challenges often present the greatest opportunity for personal growth, acquiring wisdom and experience and becoming increasingly resilient.
To survive and to thrive… two words that rhyme in such a way as to beg an assumption of similarity between the two. Yet, two very different concepts in essence.
Shortly after this experience I was looking for a good book to read; the summer was rolling in and I loved reading on my balcony. A good friend of mine suggested “Thrive – The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” by Arianna Huffington, co-founder, president, and editor in chief of Huffington Post. I was excited by the coincidence… the verb “thrive” was becoming a theme of my summer. I’m loving the book thus far; Arianna goes on to define thriving as a third metric of success:
“To live the lives that we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. These four pillars make up the four sections of this book”. ~ Thrive, by Arianna Huffington.
My dearest readers, I would like to end this post with a call to action. Let us strive to make this upcoming summer, and every season after that, about “thriving” in our lives. Let’s make this summer about not merely surviving through a challenge, but about discovering the “third metric” of success, about embracing growth and experience and adventure in our everyday lives.
This summer, let us THRIVE!