Dr. Cara Barker
All I can say is 'what a week!' I don't know about you, but mine has been pretty much a kaleidoscope of sounds, events, sensations. Monday, we heard President Obama build a bridge with the Chinese, who are increasingly becoming our landlord, while in Alaska Sarah Palin's telling all who will listen that she's resigned from governor so she can really serve the people of her state without all the politics. Right. Over the weekend, there was coverage about the life of Walter Cronkite, and moving words from his buddy, Andy Rooney. On Capital Hill, more rhetoric and posturing about the necessity health care reform, while on Wall Street, speculative statements are being made about us coming out of the recession. Oh, yes, and let's not forget the ticker-tape unfolding events surrounding Michael Jackson's death, Murray, the kids, and, now a new appointment at the White House for beer for a table of three.
Meeting the Unexpected. But of all the words I've heard in the past few days, the ones that spoke most deeply to me were these aboard the returning Amtrak train to Seattle: "Is there a doctor on board?" Believe me, I was invested in the answer. Minutes earlier, I'd been walking through the compartment, having just visited the snack bar to get my bottle of water. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of you! Suddenly, the train lunged, throwing me, with some considerable velocity, against the back corner, inches from the window. The force hurled me, and my lower back, against a metal bar, beneath the window. Appropriately, the metal was a railing for the handicapped. Only in my case, it did not help, but rather, hindered my subsequent mobility. The pain was considerable. As I attempted to return to my feet, it became abundantly clear to me, via my lumbar vertebra, that I wasn't going anywhere. Ready or not, my body was making it perfectly clear that it was time to 'cool my jets,' as we used to say, to simply 'be.'
As I sat there, first nauseous, then feeling faint, the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh came back to me. Funny, isn't it, how your neurons can retrieve bits and pieces from the most hidden 'files' when you face the unexpected? In this particular case, the words are from her classic Gifts from the Sea, and go like this:
"...The problem is...how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center, how to remain strong no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel....There is no easy answer."
While the attendant placed a glacier of ice on my spine, every single prayer I could muster was being sent out into the universe that there would be no literal 'crack' in the hub of my own wheel, and that this affair would net out simply as a teaching which would help me get my house in further order. During the next 3 ½ hours, as I contemplated what had transpired, and 'why me, why this, why now,' another scene came back to mind. You have a lot of time to ponder when you can't move.
Nine hours earlier, along the way to the station, we came across the flashing red lights of Medic One on Dearborn Street. Two medics and one police officer were checking out what appeared to be a homeless man who'd fallen on the pavement. "Poor guy," I muttered to my husband. "It's a good thing we've got first responders! But what of all the people without healthcare?" Little did I know that it would be me, two blocks from that very spot later that evening, that would be wheeled into an ambulance. You just never know. Best to live each moment to the hilt.
I love the train. Despite this accident, I will always love the train. I love the clickety-clack, the solitude and escape from the phone and all related gadgets. I love the space, the room to breathe, observe, and go within. My few hours in Portland were 'the best.' My friend, Ed Madison, who's been in media forever, picked me up at the station, which gave us a chance to catch up, before he recorded a piece for one of my C.D.', and for the Web. What a blessing to catch up with him, learn about his new son, and be 'with kin.' Later, while waiting for the train, there was time to catch up on the phone with my cousin, as well as a few friends I'd been missing. My heart was full. It was with that feeling that I entered the train, and found my seat, 7A, settling in for a relaxing journey back home, mission accomplished. Or, so I thought until the train lurched, and landed me in need of a doctor or angel, whichever came first.
Help Arrives. My own personal guardian angel sat down across from me, within moments of the accident, as the train joggled along the tracks. "My name is Brian, and I'm a doctor." Thank you, Holy of Holies! Brian Harte, from Cleveland, Ohio, was on vacation with his hiking buddies, or so he thought. (Two hours later, there was another medical emergency on board, which led to a 45 minute wait at the Tacoma station for a team to arrive and do what they needed to do.) Poor Brian needed to catch a flight at Sea-Tac that same evening! Before he took off, I suggested he might want to consider the plane next time.
One Simple Tip. One of the things I noticed, amongst many, that night, was the healing power of Presence. You might think it a little thing that someone gives you their name, and asks you yours. However, among 14 people with whom I dealt connected to the episode, (train, station, ambulance, and, eventually the E.R. of Overlake Hospital, only 3 of the 14 offered their name. Let me tell you, when you are in that situation, one of the simple things that are needed is connection, not anonymity. Hence, I asked for names! We need contact if we want the parasympathetic nervous system is to 'get on board' when there's been trauma. Brian is a champion at this. Periodically, he'd come back to where I was stationary "...just to see how you are doing..." This was more than helpful. What a simple act, and yet, such 'good medicine.' The next time you witness an accident, extend your name, ask the patient their name, and use it. Brian remembers the oath he took as a doc: "I hold my art as sacred..." Buddha put it this way:
"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle...happiness never
decreases by being shared."
Brian is such a 'candle.'
I could not help but think of the political power grabbing on the Hill, and wish that more of the folks we've sent there could remember the meaning of the Buddha's words, and Brian's action. What if we all, politicians and non-politicians would remember that we can make a very real difference by simple human outreach. What if we 'got' that our role is to respond to what is before us in the most humane way we can? What if we took to heart the fact that neither do we know what's 'round the corner, nor the impact we might have. What if we trusted that this is why we are here, after all? What if we found for ourselves the truth that Victor Hugo penned:
"The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that you are loved."
Around the Corner. The beauty is that creation reminds us in infinite ways that we are loved. Just this morning, on my first little walk along the lake since the aforementioned, I decided to do the little exercise I suggested on the C.D. Ed recorded for me. It goes like this: "At the very moment you believe you cannot afford the time, write out, in one sentence, the problem that's got you stumped. Lay it down, and go for a 15-20 minute walk, and notice the unexpected. When you return, if you are open, you'll find a clue to your situation." As I walked along a sequestered little part of Lake Washington, I was met with the most beautiful pond of white water lilies that you've ever seen. But wait! There's more! Right in their midst was a solitary heron, standing perfectly still. Hearing the pounding of a runner behind me, I turned and motioned "Shush" and motioned to the heron. The pony-tailed woman stopped in her tracks. "Wow," she said with a smile. "Thanks for stopping me. Sometimes I get to going so fast that I miss the important things." Amen.
Let me leave you with some of them. Check out what's embedded below. I guarantee you, you'll feel better.
I'll be back, God willing, August 12th. For now, please let me know how you are, what you've been learning, what's helping you, and what inspires you today? I'll get back in touch as soon as I can. Godspeed, and watch for lurching trains! Cara