Here is my latest column in Emergency Medicine News. I hope you enjoy it!
My wife just built a pergola in our yard. Mind you, a pergola is a thing I never knew existed until it was pointed out to me by my darling. If I had been asked, ‘what do you think of her pergola,’ I might have thought, ‘well, it certainly fills out that dress nicely,’ or perhaps, ‘I remember that from pathology. It incubates for four weeks, causes fever and weeping skin sores and is common in the Pacific islands.’
Turns out it’s that structure you see in elegant yards, or in the sacred pages of our Dixie Holy Book, Southern Living. A pergola is the wooden framed structure that ladies of taste have in their yards, and on which assorted vines grow for shade, and beneath which said ladies and their charming children have cakes and lemonade in oppressive summer heat. Incidentally, I have explained to my wife that Southern Living is merely house porn…images of things that one desires but which do not actually appear in nature and which are not actually available to mere mortals. I now stand corrected, though our pergola may have wild animal carcasses dragged beneath it, unlike those in Southern Living.
Our pergola is almost finished. Thanks to the skill and vision of my Jan (who probably should have been an engineer), and thanks to the strength and agility of my children, the tools and experience of my various in-laws, it has risen from the ground behind our house. Its posts are set in concrete, its beams securely nailed. It’s tall posts and well-measured intervals caused me to ask Jan if it were aligned with the summer and winter solstice, and if we’d be dancing naked beneath it. She smiled and said, ‘maybe!’
Pergola entered my vocabulary because it was something my wife desired; something of interest to her. I’ve learned other things from that girl. I’ve learned about leadership skills, which she used to teach to college students and still teaches to our church youth. I’ve learned about volunteerism, and historical romance. About Japanese words and her love of Ireland, land of her ancestors. I’ve even learned things I can’t discuss here.
But she isn’t my only teacher; not at all. From my children I learned many things as well. If not for my son Seth, I wouldn’t have my deep love of the bag-pipe. Many years ago, when he was small, we heard the band Albanach play a show. They are a group of Scots who play pipes and drums the way Ted Nugent plays the guitar. Watching their show, one understands why the English viewed Highland combat with a certain reluctance. But they inspired my son. And he has played the pipes, better and better, for years. It was also Seth who led us down the path of learning the ancient art of blacksmithing. A smithy sits in our yard, and we fire it up whenever we need to shape metal and feel the heat, see the sparks and ‘get our iron on.’
My daughter Elysa taught me the fine art of playing dolls, and endlessly teaches me about fashion and contemporary culture. She makes me dance in the dining room, and asks me questions about my past, and her mothers. She shows me how to make movies on an i-Pad and how to do all of the things on my computer I should understand, but don’t. She also teaches me to see inside the hearts of others, for she is a born healer, all compassion.
Elijah, my 13-year-old, forces me to learn. I am always behind his vocabulary, and interests, as he quizzes me on German words (I don’t know any, I try to explain), relativity (zoology degree, not physics), Norse Mythology and ancient combat. (OK, I know a little.) But his passion for knowing forces me to read, to learn and to never stop loving the act.
And my oldest, Sam, teaches me that there’s always a reason to laugh, always a new ‘Meme’ online that I need to see, always a new idea on BBC news or somewhere else that we need to discuss. He introduced me to the band Muse, and is my guide to the modern music scene. In fact, his enthusiasm for his favorite band led his mother and I to drive family and friends to see the band in Indianapolis in the summer of 2011.
What’s my point here, you may be asking? Not to catalog my family hobbies, certainly. My point is this. We physicians can be a focused bunch. We work, we study, we write or do research, we speak. For so long, we’ve listened to our own interests and followed our own requirements. We get lost in education, then in continuing education and in the vagaries of practice. So lost, in fact, that we lose touch with the very interests and tendencies of the people we love. And we forget that love is more than an emotion. Love involves engagement in the lives of others, and sacrifice of some our time, some of ourselves, for their good.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a husband and parent, and not always done well, it’s that we have to open our eyes, ears and hearts to the passions of the people we love. I could have devoted my entire life, and all of my time, to me. But what a loss. I have learned so much more by being led by my dear family! Lead on walks, lead to play X-Box, lead to imagine, lead to dance, lead to build a coal smithy and make things, lead to play airsoft, to listen to concerts, to read widely and always embrace life in its wonders.
In the process of following, of letting go of my own agenda, I was lead deeper into the hearts of my wife and kids. I am safely ensconced there now, and their interests and joys have been welded to my own. I couldn’t undo it if I wanted. But I don’t.
Because in the process, we have had laughter and love, games and trips, learning and adventure. I have become so much more than a physician, so much wider in scope, wiser in life, richer in knowledge and skills.
And we have a pergola, for crying out loud! How cool is that? And I for one can’t wait to sip lemonade beneath it.
Bagpipes and anvils and music from alt bands
German and physics and myths out of Iceland,
Pergolas, dancing and daughters with bling,
these are a few of my favorite things!