You are not that pretty. Actually, in some places you are kinda dirty. Your river is muddy, everybody thinks you are dangerous, and you are very expensive to fly to. You are famous for BBQ, the Blues, and a King who never really ruled anyone. You have a strange pyramid in the middle of your city, you have a sports team named for an animal that doesn’t live even remotely close to you, and you have a “island” that isn’t an island at all (it’s a peninsula…did anybody even pay attention in the 5th grade??). Memphis, you have much that I can poke fun at, but Memphis, you made me.
In 2010, when I needed a place to land to study trauma, to learn how to be all in, to learn how to save a life, you said, “C’mon over, darling. I will teach ya!” So I left my happy little home in the Chicago suburbs, and for reasons beyond my capacity to explain, I left my husband and children (including the baby, who hasn’t forgiven me to this day) in Chicago for a year and headed South. I drove down I-57 for 7 hours and landed in a little studio, a run-down, probably unsafe, little studio apartment, which my kids later nicknamed “The Living Room”….and I fell directly into the arms of the grittiest, most vibrant, most untamed, and loving city in the world.
Memphis, you welcomed me in, and filled me up with your tender nourishment, your libations, and your soul-full sounds. I poured my heart into you…I worked more hours than I knew existed in a week, more days than I knew present on the calendar in a month. I poured myself into every minute, every detail of learning everything I possibly could about saving a life after trauma. I cut open chests and squeezed hearts the best that I could; I opened bellies and sewed up wounds; I placed tubes and lines and drains wherever, and whenever, they were needed. Memphis, you worked me to the bone. You broke me.
You broke my heart, with patient after patient, flown in from 250 miles away, injured, maimed…dead. You broke my body with tireless hours, wandering the halls of the hallowed hospital, treating the lame and destitute. You broke my spirit with weeks on end not seeing my family. You broke my mind with tomes of knowledge I couldn’t sip fast enough from the fire hydrant that spewed from the mouths of my gray haired mentors. And Memphis, you almost broke my life…but instead you saved it, but I bet you didn’t know that.
I left you happy but scared; excited but nervous. I signed on the line and I took that first new job. And it was wonderful and flush with love and resources. But I was not. A little lost and a lot numb, I was wandering…
But every year, I come back to you. I come back to your streets and your dives, but mostly I come back to your people. That which doesn’t kill you…makes you bull-headed. You almost broke me, and my marriage. But, Memphis, you taught me that this life is not about me, but all of us folks…the patients, the colleagues…the friends, the family…the marriage. So now, instead of running away from you, we, me and my ever patient husband, run back to you every year. We run back to your people. We run back to the memories and the places and the tastes and the sounds of the very thing that could have hurt us, for the time apart, for the divergence of experience, but instead, we have redeemed it all, to be the very thing that saved us.
Every time we go back, we learn from you. You teach us how to have the biggest heart, the most open minds, the softest spirits, the biggest stomachs, and the grit for life that makes us better…alone, but more importantly, together.
We all have a lot to learn from you, Memphis. We should learn to not run from the things in our past that are difficult…but embrace them, and let them teach us. We should learn to be bold, loud, brave; to be indulgent, yet not pretentious, to be wild, yet not untamed. We should learn that difficult doesn’t mean impossible; that scars leave us tougher, not weaker.
Memphis, thank you. Memphis, you made me…you made us, better.Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.