Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Generosity Day!

Valentine's Day giving you the blues? Are you single and alone and two steps away from a bag of chocolate...yes, I'm talking to you.  The chocolate coma is not worth is, I promise.

Let's change angles.  Let's shift our perspectives.  Instead of, "What a sh*tty Valentine's Day this is for ME," let's make it about someone else - anyone else.

Today is Generosity Day.  It is the day we have put off far too long. It is the day we have told ourselves time and time again, "I'm going to help out that guy on the street one day.  I'm going to give to a charity or cause one day.  I'm going to be the generous tipper at a restaurant one day.  I'm going to be the brave person who talks to the lonely security guard one day. I'm going to reconnect with that long lost friend or family member one day." Well, today is that day.

Today is the day.  Today is the day we can choose to feel sorry for ourselves and to throw our very own self-pity party.

Or, we can choose to act out what Valentine's Day is really about: love, compassion, empathy, generosity, connection, vulnerability, belonging, and courage.  That's right.  No where is Valentine's day about chocolate, self-pity, self-doubt, candy grams, and plastic hearts.  It's true.  Wal-mart, Target, the convenience stores, grocery stores and commercials have all been lying.  I promise.

Today is the day. Meet someone new.  Give a little more.  Stretch your mind and your heart.  Feeling nervous? Never done anything like this before? That's okay.  There's a first time for everything.

Furthermore, I promise you really can't fail at it!  All you have to do is be human and attempt as best you can to feel what someone else feels, practice some genuine empathy, give. You will surprise yourself.  You will do these things with raw and genuine generosity without any contrived superficiality.
Remember you really have nothing to lose.  On the contrary, you only have joy, connection and a deeper understanding of the human condition to gain - if you dare to go that far.

Monday, February 13, 2012


This weekend I had the privilege of participating in the 3rd annual Vagina Monologues at my medical school.  I wrote in my bio that I was inspired to try-out after watching KC Baker's TED talk on women claiming the public stage.   In the talk, KC referred to the Dalai Lama's comment, "The world will be saved by the western woman." KC responded with, "The world will be saved by the western woman who speaks up."

For those of you who have not seen or heard of the Vagina Monologues, it is a play based on over 200 interviews with women about all sorts of vaginal topics: ranging from orgasms and the art of finding the clitoris to rape and abuse.  The themes from  the interviews were consolidated into monologues that are performed throughout the country to raise awareness of the ongoing violence against women.  Valentine's Day was dubbed V-Day as the official day to campaign and protest.

Each year, the Vagina Monologues also spotlights an area of the world where the violence has been escalated, and a monologue is performed to commemorate the women affected.  This year, the campaign focused on the devastated post-earthquake region of Haiti, war-torn Congo and post-Katrina New Orleans. While they are three very different areas of the world, the monologue tied the themes of oppression, racism and sexism together to highlight issues of which women all throughout the world can relate and stand in solidarity.   I was lucky enough to perform that monologue.

All aspects of the show impacted me.  I befriended fourteen other courageous and strong future female physicians, healed immensely through connection and bonding,  overcame nerves to claim the public stage and finally delivered an important message.  Heck, I even learned things about my vagina I had not previously been taught-no, not even in anatomy class.

The spotlight monologue was technically focused on other regions of the world, but the slam poetry could pull on a heartstring of any woman.  I could relate to it, the women of Philadelphia could relate to it, and by the end of two months of rehearsal, I could literally feel my life story with the life stories of all women being told in that poem.

While Saturday and Sunday's performance were delivered smoothly and moved the audience to both laughter and tears, today's performance at a local women's shelter, The Sheila Dennis House, left an imprint on me of gratitude, humility and fellowship.

We had never had an audience as animated at the Sheila Dennis House today.  At every mention of the word vagina or clitoris, they gasped, their eyes bulged out, and finally and without any inhibition, they let out roars of laughter.

My monologue was supposed to take the audience on a journey.  It started in chaos as I delivered the scenery of garbage, animals and rubble.  We then barged right through a wall of frustration as the audience and I realized no - no one was coming to help- even though help was promised.  Then, there is the line where the mood changes.

"Dances churches fields abuse centers carrying possibility bellies beings words."

At this point, my voice changes and I am moved.

It happened consistently, each time I practiced and performed the monologue: while running, in the shower or at rehearsal.  But tonight, during that line, I gazed into the eyes of a seven month pregnant twenty-something year old in the front row.  The entire audience let out an awe of relief as we all gathered our compassion and strength for her alone.

It is this line where the mood shifts.  It is this line where every single woman can relate: black, white, American, Haitian, Congolese, broken, rich, poor...

It is this point where the woman overcomes adversity, recalls her inner strength, finds enough courage to connect with others and remembers nothing can stop her.  It is this line when women band together, decide to dance regardless of circumstance, and realize that the world's destiny is up to their attitude, resilience and courage.

When the women were brought into my story, into chaos, they nodded in empathy.  I could feel their thoughts, "mmhmm, I've been there." They sang "Amens" during the frustration as they all knew what it feels like to be in a situation where they did not have control and to yearn for a helping hand that would never arrive.  But then, simultaneously with the inflection of my voice, they eased into the optimism of that line. From that point on, shy smiles gradually peaked out because we remembered, we all remembered, that we must carry on as the mother earth does.  We must carry on, for it is us that carry all possibility.

"What women carrying on outshining filth, outshining odds
What happens now New Orleans Haiti Congo women
Now or never
Women claiming what they carry claiming carrying
Now women colored brightly carrying everything, everything
Carrying on I tell you
Carrying on."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The 118

Enter the elevator. I am here waiting....like a creep.

Excuse me.  If you had to decide who in the world would save it, who would it be?

Reply...hmm a superhero...my precocious daughter...definitely not Obama, he had his shot...not the UN...Morgan Freeman?...that's a weird question with my 9am coffee...

Well I have an idea who it might be.  See, in my spare time I follow the field of global health and development.  In essence, I study the best way to help.  You know, the first rule of thumb in medicine is, "Do no Harm."  Well, the same goes for public health and development.  So often, people from the western world go into communities to try and be a superhero, but they can really only go so far.  Even when we study the best methods for helping, there usually comes a roadblock at some point. If you think about our heroes, they are  generally ordinary people doing the extraordinary in their communities.  I think the best way for communities around the world to really come out of poverty are to have more leaders come out of their own communities.  Are you following me?

"Sure, I see what you're saying."

Okay, but here's where I get a little more specific.  New leaders can't be just anyone. Right?


The leader has to be a girl, and not any girl.  It has to be a girl who is educated, knows what she's worth and makes her community realize her worth as well.  It's a tough thing to sell in communities that traditionally oppress women, but already there has been some major strides in communities in Nepal, India and all throughout Africa.  It's been said the realization of women's equality is the moral issue of our time.  We know that when you educate a woman, you educate - at minimum - the rest of a family, but also entire communities and even nations.

"Okay, that sounds pretty cool."

So, here's my idea.  Because we know that investing in women and girls has huge economic implications for countries, I am starting a higher education scholarship fund for girls in the Lower Everest region of Nepal.  The scholarship is available to the forty most talented girls in the region who are currently attending high school and live in a hostel I helped build this past summer.  At the hostel, they have leadership training, vocational workshops and English lessons.  My dream is to grow this fund into an opportunity for one of these talented girls to continue her education at the University level.  Currently, I'm working on the application process.  Maybe even one day, the girl will become a physician like me and return to her community and show the world what can be done if you give a girl a shot.

So, what do you think?  You seem like you're pretty good at ... (insert personalized compliment here such as making money).

Well, I'm pretty good at creating social change around me. Want to help?

Special shout-out to Val for donating to the cause!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I am a Human Being

Let me run through the thoughts that go on immediately post medical school exam.

1.) Anger- no, not at anyone particular - just pure rage
2.) Anxiety- all the worrying sinks in
3.) Fear about never being a good doctor one day
4.) Overwhelming sadness

Commence sleep

Wake up to this video, re-humble myself, and remember I always have at least 2 options in front of me no matter what the situation.  The series of decisions, actions and reactions to life is what makes up how we live and what the environment looks like around us.  If I chose to carry those feelings around all the time without letting them go, I would create a world that looked just like those feelings around me.  That is not a loving world.  Or, I could take a moment, just a moment, and think about my breathing and my words simply for the purpose of not creating more chaos in the world.

Coming home to ourselves in the moments where we are so disappointed with ourselves is so important yet not easy.  Think about this scenario: you are in high school, you did something wrong at school, and you know your teacher called your house; furthermore, an angry parent is waiting for you when you return home from school.  Do you go home willingly with a smile on your face? I don't.  I want to avoid all disappointment at all times.  The problem is if I don't take time to admit I am a human being to myself, forgive myself and move on from bad tests and other unavoidable conflicts and opportunities for disappointment, I'm pretty sure I take that anger out on others.  Again, that's not a pretty world to live in.

The other choice is harder and more uncomfortable.  It requires authentic flexibility: not the kind where you slough everything off like it's fine but really are boiling inside.  It takes practice and daily stretching.  With that, I need to get my stretching on, but I'll leave with one final thought from Maya Angelou as today is the first day of Black History month. 

"No human being can be more human than another human being.  You can be younger and prettier and finer and richer, but you can't be more human...in order to keep a person down, you have to be down there with them." Maya Angelou