June 13, 2017

People: All the People

Birthdays have gotten sweeter as the years pass.  Every year brings a sense of new things experienced, old friendships growing, the context of ourselves deepening.  In a world that glorifies youth, I feel really lucky to find this fullness in getting older.

So much of young life centers on your circle of friends.  Over the years, this circle loosens as people migrate and shift, geographically and personally. I have loved watching my friends grow over the years, and on birthdays it's the best gift to be with and hear from them. There's comfort in the persistence of the qualities they had when I first knew them, and there's the quiet surprise of how they've changed their lives from those we had lived together.  That the old remains true, and that there's always room for newness, has been a discovery that can only come with age.  Thank you to all the kind, loving, thoughtful people I've known through the years who give more every year just by continuing to be present.

My oldest friend is someone I know from elementary school. We've been friends since the fourth grade, and we've stayed in touch even though we stopped going to the same school after seventh grade.  While I see him the least frequently of the people in my life, our shared way of processing our separate lives has created a connection independent of shared cicumstances. And distance means that we rely on written communication, which has always been my preferred means of expression ever since I could write. From notes passed in class, to AOL instant messages, to snail mail (he introduced me to tiny letters), to rambling introspective emails, there have been long gaps in communication, but always bridges.

My friends from high school remind me of the beginnings of our self-identities.  In them, I see how much of what we valued back then persevered through years of personal challenges.  As vividly as I remember us as giggly girls, it's natural to see one become a mother and another build a home, because their capacity to nurture was in their bones before we grew to our full heights. And while much feels familiar, the shapes of who we were have become etched in more deeply and more has branched out from the roots, and I've been so amazed to be witness to that.  Through it all, we share the wonder of still trying to figure it all out, learning long past the concrete marker of graduation.

I really miss my college friends because most of them are on the East Coast, where I first knew them, and they are so much of the reason that a Californian like me has so much love for the other coast.  From them, one of many things I learned is the extreme privilege of those four years, and the desire to pay respect to everything we've been given by our families and the luck of life.  In a place that could be dominated by entitlement and ego, I met the most humble people who looked out for others often more than for themselves.  And over the years, we've let go more and more of all the stressful burdens of that time, seeing how those worries of our early twenties have proven insignificant against all the good that's grown.  It was with them that I first cried hard, like on-the-floor, carry-me-home hard (which we now laugh on-the-floor hard about). This vulnerability persists through all the slices of time since then, and for this I feel luckier with each year that we collect more moments, painful and happy.

In medical school we started referring to our group of friends as family. One of the best parts of my life so far has been having a home where people came in and out unannounced all the time. There's something so warm and loyal about spontaneous meals, kitchen conversations, treks to the waterfall (as common a hangout as our apartment). And this is a phase in my life that I most strongly associate with falling in love with being outside.  One birthday, one of our most nature-doting friends made me a waterfall, constructed from a tree log and rocks from our actual waterfall and a spout that actually streamed forth water. Every year I feel this sustenance more strongly, because it formed so much of the basis for everything else that's happened since then.  This water that's been the capacity to wash away, to carve out, to pool together.  I feel so glad for these people who helped build the elements of who I am, and for being the kind of people who constantly build for others.

I think that a big part of my unhappiness during residency was the lack of time and space to develop the same relationships, which mostly comes from my own trouble adjusting to the contrast between the freedom of medical school and the restrictions of residency. I'm immensely grateful for the people I did spend time with, who I've connected to differently and more deeply now that I'm out of the fog of residency.  I don't think there's anyone else who can really understand the loss of self that comes from this period of life that demanded so much sacrifice, and so with them I share the experience of now reclaiming ourselves and the reminder that we're much more than the structure of medicine.

Now post-residency, working at a real job, I'm incredibly happy to have co-workers who are also my good friends.  They give such good care to our patients at work, and to me outside of clinic (and many times during, at those moments after patient interactions or bureaucratic hoops when I feel my head or heart or both exploding). I really value the diversity of their paths to this work, and paths to where they are in life.  In a place where you often feel like you're constantly tending to the needs of others, it's so important to be around people with whom you swap everything, from book and music recommendations to stories about our therapists to drinks at happy hour (that's mainly me giving mine away because I'm an ultra lightweight).  It's not something I realized I should be looking for when I was interviewing for jobs, but something I'm ecstatic to have found.

And one of the best surprises of age has been forming connections outside of all these regimented phases, knowing that there's all this development and potential and newness well after people tell you you're done.  The people I've met climbing have opened for me a kind of generosity and support, different and just as strong as in other parts of my life.  I love that I've met people who are so different from me, who I never would have come across in my daily life, who share this common passion.  I've seen in so many ways how this commonality leads to a natural desire to share, and I'm always blown away by how people go out of their way to be there for each other, in climbing and life outside of it.  I'm not sure what I imagined after I finished my medical training, but I anticipated some sort of end to things.  And I think that as we get older, we subconsciously feel a little less appealing and less able to make new connections.  I'm glad to know that there's no end to interesting, giving people entering your life.  Old friends are so comforting in their persistence despite changes, and new friends feel so refreshing in the reminder that things can still change.

And of course, there's the family who have been there since the very first birthdays and early days that they remember more than I can.  On my birthday this year, a friend asked me about my favorite birthday party from childhood.  I think he felt bad when I said that we didn't really have birthday parties growing up.  But I didn't feel bad, and I never have.  Because everything good in my life started with the care from my parents and brothers, and each year older just reminds me of how far their sacrifices have gone.

Lately we've been getting into this routine of jokingly griping about getting older--more prone to injury, less able to heal, biological clocks ticking, earlier bedtimes, quicker hangovers or none at all.  And these are real annoyances, but more than anything else, I feel so lucky to have had another year of experiences with great people.  Not that all the experiences were great--this year was personally pretty painful, which makes me especially attune to what's kept me afloat--but that I can continue to make space for them, to become more.  And that depth has given me way more strength and energy than physical time can take away, making me actually really glad for the stacking of years.  Thank you so much for every person I know for being responsible for that.


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