February 15, 2018

People : Chunk of Change

As I get older and the people around me get older, I see two general trajectories of personality: we become more stuck in our ways, or we mellow out and become more open.  One of my general ongoing goals is life to be more of the latter, especially because stubbornness is pretty rooted in my genes.  Once, a friend said to me: "don't be stubborn," and another friend responded, "that's like telling her, don't be."  Another part of getting older is distinguishing when a quality is beneficial to myself and others, and when that same quality is harmful to myself and others.  I've found that I learn the most when listening to things outside of myself, which is one of the things I love most about a job that exposes me to people so different from me, pasts and futures so off my own path.

At the same time that I'm changed by our work in primary care, I try to stay mindful of its primary purpose: to promote increments of change for other people.  Recently, I was telling someone about how a big part of keeping this work sustainable is accepting the small scale of change we can effect.  Otherwise we're discouraged and disappointed.  So I've learned to keep my expectations low, and be glad for the small and the slow.  He asked me a question that I don't think has ever been asked of me before: "Are you okay with that?"

I knew instinctively that my answer was yes, but I wasn't sure how to articulate why. I thought maybe I'd never fully processed the reason for myself, and if that was the case, was my answer valid?  I continued to think about the question for awhile.  

Soon after, I saw Passion Pit in concert at the Fox Theater (one of many reasons for my lapses in writing is because I'm not good at transitions, but I promise this is related).  I loved this band back in medical school, but hadn't listened to their music in years.  They played most of their famous songs, but it was a song from their lesser known EP Chunk of Change that really made me re-feel my love for them.  They sang "Smile Upon Me" and I kind of wanted to cry. It felt really familiar and also far away; I hadn't listened to that album in so long, and the reunion made me pay attention to the words and sounds in a way I hadn't the first time around listening to it.  

It made me think of another friend who often comments on the lyrics of the songs I play in the car, who made me realize that for all my love of language I rarely pay attention to what songs are literally saying.  I went home and listened to Chunk of Change in its entirety.  And discovered that in addition to the gorgeous sounds that always made me feel so much, the lyrics are incredibly kind and loving in this way that feels raw and scary, like when you're sharing something personal you know everyone can relate to but no one talks about.

Then that made me think of the title of the overall album, whose meaning I can honestly say I've never considered other than as a way to refer to the album.  It also helped to look at the cover art.  It's a smattering of hexagons in different colors with unequal sides, superimposed on one another.  Each shape is one-dimensional on its own but when layered on each other, and connected with straight lines that cut across the shapes, create a three-dimensional structure.  

The album is short (6 songs) and songs in general are short (a few minutes), and Passion Pit recognizes that for all that we put into our work and our creations, they're just thin slices. They're stray pennies and nickels (Marie Kondo tells us, throw away that spare change, stop saving it up because you'll never use it and who gets real joy from small coins).  But these things that occupy very little space, that have maybe little tangible value--they can carry a weight independent of their thickness or quantity.  They also shift, and show up in different places at different times, and they change us.

Which is how I feel about work, and about our slight interactions with people who deserve way more than we can give.  Each encounter is a layer, shed or accumulated.  Because it's little, we can miss it or neglect to nurture it.  We forget to trust that the things pressed upon us don't always leave concrete impressions, to have faith that caring has ineffable effects, to let go of the need to achieve successes in a conventional, direct way.  I'm not just okay with small increments of change--I love this process more than anything else.  It's the most natural way we progress, and we too often dismiss it for the promise of something shinier, something more immediate, something more definable.

Which is why one of many lines that I love from Chunk of Change is "I cry tears like diamonds."  A reminder that we arbitrarily assign value to things whose heft we can hold, and dismiss the weight of things that lack form unless they're running down our faces and even then, they're wiped away.  I love the difficulty, and the complexity, of searching for color and line in those things.

And for my own process, I'm really grateful to all the people and experiences in my life that promote layers of change, of re-framing.  Grateful for the person who asks a question of me to re-consider work I've done for years, for the person whose intuitive way of listening makes me actively re-listen to music I've loved for years, and for all our patients who challenge us every day to push our sphere of living and theirs too.

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