Following the invitation to our friends’ lake house for the weekend came one more text…”So glad you guys can come! The big meal is Sunday. But if you want to participate in the cook, y’all should head down on Saturday…” The boys throw on their old t-shirts, grab a cold drink, and head down to the outdoor kitchen. All. Day. The smoker and the grill and the barrel all get warmed up and stoked and prepared; the meat gets a rub of secret spices. They carefully drop the meat in place. And then they wait. And while they wait, there are stories and laughter and games; more family arrives (or maybe they were friends, I can’t tell cause everyone here is welcomed like family…); more kids jump in the lake; Uncle Jason offers a boat ride; Grandad saunters by to check on the progress. The boys take a break and check the meat…coming along nicely. We make the secret family recipe salad and onion rings. Hot from playing in the sticky Southern sun all day, we all take turns in the outdoor shower, which is both rustic and an incredible luxury. The kids start to find their way to the bunk house, with their sun-touched pink cheeks and scraped knees, they fall asleep fast. The adults find one more icy cold drink; the boys check the meat one more time; and we gather around the picnic table on the screened in porch, the ceiling fan blowing around the humid air, and we play games and laugh until our tummies hurt and our faces are sore. We fall into bed.
At 5am the boys wake up, toss on their ball caps, and find each other by the smoker…the meat needs their intense attention this morning. There are more friends/family, more splashing in the lake, more temporary tattoos that Aunt Christy brought; more swinging on the porch, more kids chasing each other with water guns. Finally, the meat is declared ready; the table has been set; the kids are called in from the dock. It is time. Dinner is served. Hungry from our preparations, our appetites are satiated in less than twenty minutes. The paper plates are cleared and the leftovers stuffed into random containers and crammed in the fridge. And it’s over…just like that.
Across from me, in my office, is a young and eager student who found her future dreams arriving a little sooner than she was imagining. A squeaking, tiny baby in her arms, a few post-partum tears trickle down her cheek, she is wrestling with her new role as mommy and her long held aspirations for a career in medicine, desperately trying to understand how she will succeed at both. She has found herself trying to make big decisions for her future, which residency to choose, which rotations to seek out, in this tender moment when she wants nothing more than simply to be the wife and mother that she aspired to be. Which choice is right? How will I balance? How can I know what will make me happy in the future, she wonders out loud. I cry, too. I cradle that tiny infant…and kiss his perfect forehead. I know deep in my heart that with the wisdom she holds, far beyond her years, she will be happy no matter what she chooses.
The long run that awaits me on a Saturday morning; the research project that never seems to end–the data collection, the statistics, the abstract. The list of books I want to read; the places I want to travel; the rooms I want to paint the colors of the Lake…to take me back there in my mind. The marriage that always needs more effort; the kids that always need more attention; the spiritual journey that never seems to have an epiphany. And, oh, how grateful I am that I never seem to actually arrive! The meal was over in twenty minutes, but it was never about the meal anyway. It was about The Process. The time with family, the laughter and the soggy swim suits. It’s never about The Career Choice, it’s about the life we build along the way; the baby who fell into our arms, the best friendships we cultivated during the grueling residency. It’s not about The Paper that gets published (or in my case, rejected a dozen times), but about the way I learned to weave words across the page to share with whoever is willing to read those words, the little pearl I learned after I passionately examined my patients and my practice and challenged myself to be better. It’s not about waking up one day to say, “Hey Jesus, that’s cool. I finally figured you all out. Check. Done.” But rather, everyday, when I hold my steaming coffee and watch the sunrise as I shuffle the delicate pages of my Bible and scribble my mind into my journal, those are the moments that truly matter. The Process. And if I should dare think that I have ever arrived, that The Process is over, then how bitter would be the loss of those moments of laughter and hard work that breed exhilarating reward; the joy of the waiting and working together; oh, how much I would miss if I sought the end more than The Process.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.