You are (meant to be) here.

I am often overwhelmed by day to day decision-making. Simple choices like what to have for breakfast, or which route to drive home, or what outfit to wear build themselves up in my mind, until somehow they have acquired more space than they should. Suddenly my decision to stop at the supermarket after work has the same weight as deciding to pursue postgraduate education.

Often, too, it feels like all my decisions are the wrong ones. When I follow my instincts, when I don’t follow my instincts – no matter how I try to weigh the pros and cons I still end up feeling like I let the right choice slip away.

Last week I was running late to pick my partner up from work. As usual my series of choices led me down the wrong path: tardiness. But as I crested the hill, I caught a glimpse of the sunset on the horizon. The brilliantly scarlet star was seconds away from sinking out of view, and I got to watch those seconds.

Almost instantly I felt a wave of calm and certainty. All the choices I had made that day – wrong, right or indifferent – had led me to this exact moment, and I couldn’t have timed it better if I tried. It suddenly didn’t matter that I was late – lateness happens. All that mattered was that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

 

It Begins with a Single Step

Cheryl Strayed (Sugar from The Rumpus.net) has a story about a dress her mother bought for the granddaughter she would never meet. It’s a lovely story about continuity and the mysterious, unknowable ways the universe unfolds and she tells it with characteristic grace and gravity in Tiny Beautiful Things (more on this book later). My story is kind of like that. But without cute little girls in red dresses.

I almost didn’t listen to myself when I wanted to meet some of my far-flung family. I was in the right place, with just enough of the right time left to do it, but I was holding myself back with what-ifs and fears of rejection. They didn’t know me, at all. At best they would have some vague recollection of my grandmother spending time with them when she was about my age. Eons ago. I was banking on family resemblance and the intrinsic niceness of people, not something I was fond of banking on (the niceness; my family resemblance is sort of legendary).

I wouldn’t have done it at all if not for Kat who talked me into listening to my gut and doing what I obviously wanted to do and it won’t kill you to try so just go and I’ll hold your hand if you get nervous. For once my gut had someone on its side.

I didn’t expect to get anything out of meeting my family – I just wanted to know who they were and open my life up to any new experiences they could teach me. I didn’t know I would have to find somewhere to stay in May Pen eventually, but when I decided to come here for three weeks and it turned out that the school wasn’t going to put me up it was really amazing to have someone to ask. I wouldn’t have been able to ask if I hadn’t built some sort of relationship first. I put effort in with no idea what the results could be. I didn’t even know if these people would like me! Turn out they’re too much like me not to like me.

Sometimes we don’t know which road is the right one when we’re facing a fork. Sometimes there are too many options that look right and we can’t see to the end of each road to figure out if that’s where we need to end up. Sometimes we have to trust out gut to make the right steps based on what we want for ourselves and hope that all the little ‘right’ decisions will lead us to the place we ultimately want to be.

It is entirely possible to stumble blindly into a career of medicine

I wanted to be a journalist. Like Rory Gilmore. Or Lois Lane. You know, running around after leads, protecting my sources, dealing with a slave-driving-but-loveable editor-in-chief.

(It probably says something about my dedication to journalism that I can only remember the names of fictional journalists.)

I love writing for writing’s sake just as much as covering a story. I love the hum of life in the newspaper houses I see on TV. The only newspaper house I’ve been to in Mobay isn’t nearly as hum-filled. That’s probably why I don’t feel the magic so much any more. Maybe I should go try the Gleaner’s Head Office in Kingston.

My point is that I love words. I love them all the more when they’re strung together with some kind of cohesion (unlike this post). And up until 2008, I was dead set on doing some degree in the Arts at UWI. So how did I end up, four years later, halfway through my MBBS? There’s really no one answer to that question.

Back in ’08 when Mummy was trying to be understanding about my passion for writing despite her passion for seeing her daughter in a paying job, she dug up some career options I’d have if I pursued a degree in the Humanities Dept. She had looked at Political Science degrees (with which I’d be working at the UN by now), language degrees, and other things that I forget because they really weren’t that interesting. Pol Sci was really the only thing that grabbed my attention. And journalism. But, my mother argued, you won’t make any money doing that. Your grades are so good, she pleaded, why can’t you just do medicine like you wanted to when you were eight?

Ordinarily, I would have stubbornly clung to my starving artist future, but I was really undecided. I had the grades to do medicine, I thought, so doesn’t that make me obligated to do it? Shouldn’t everyone who can, do? What did passion matter in the face of opportunity? These questions kept me up at night for months.

In the end I gave in to my mother. And aunt. And friends in the science path who wondered what took me so long. And my own guilty conscience. Because I felt I had a duty to live up to my “good” science grades, because a medical degree practically guarantees a solid future, and because being a doctor meant saving lives instead of just writing about them. I dusted off my dream of becoming a forensic pathologist, which I’d shoved up on a shelf beside my dream of becoming a paediatrician (that dream is really far in the back), and I finished that school year, applying to do science subjects in C.A.P.E. the next year.

At first it was okay. My Arts friends felt slightly betrayed, but also unsurprised, as if they’d known that I never really belonged to them. I didn’t really make any friends in my new course either. I just wasn’t used to people my age. I finished my 2-year C.A.P.E. degree and got accepted to medicine (which is a whole other complicated story). And then the regret started.

All of a sudden, I knew exactly what I would have done had I continued on my Arts course. A Literature degree, obviously. And then I’d work minimum wage jobs at a publishing house, climbing through the ranks until I made editor-in-chief or branched out to start my own publishing company.

In my first year of medical school, this future-that-could-have-been appeared so clearly that it practically blind-sighted me to everything else. My first summer in med school, I was on the verge of dropping out, working for a year to pay off student loans and then going back to UWI to study Literature. I was in tears most of the time, fighting with myself over job security or job satisfaction (not that you can’t have both). But, once again, I was talked out of it. This time by KT, thank god, because I doubt anyone else could have said anything to convince me otherwise.

Since then I haven’t had any serious relapses. I live vicariously through my friends who actually have Literature Degrees, and I write as much as I can. It helps that I actually enjoy medical school, and that I wouldn’t change the two years for anything, and that I’m looking forward to helping people in the near future.

But I still have dreams about the life I could have been having if I’d been a little more stubborn.

Story time: Fits and starts

If I miss the exit, can I double back?

For those who don’t know, medicine isn’t my first love. That honour will always go to Literature, writing and the editorial arts. Medicine is pretty much just to pay the bills, but that’s not to say I don’t love it (sometimes -_-). I say this as a prelude to a story that took place one night several years ago, and sort of had its sequel a few days ago.

I’d just gone to buy dinner downtown when I happened across a crowd spilling off the sidewalk into the street. Now it is the nature of Jamaicans to move towards a crowd of people, no matter how hostile or downright threatening they appear. So usually when I see a crowd my MO is to move in the opposite direction as fast as possible. But that night I went closer, and it turned out that there was a lady having a seizure, almost in the middle of the road. She lay there on the ground while people were debating what to do with her

“Put one piece a board in her mouth.” “Use her shoes.” etc. etc. But at the end of the day everybody just stood around watching her. (Now, I know that’s pretty much what you’re supposed to do, not move them or interfere with them in anyway until the seizure has passed – unless they’re having trouble breathing and whatnot – but I didn’t know that then).

I wasn’t able to see the outcome, but what I remember most vividly was a burning desire to help her. Not write an article about the underestimation of epilepsy in Jamaican society, not try to educate the mass media about basic first aid. But to be the person who knew exactly what to do in that situation i.e. a doctor. Or something. And for me, that was a defining moment. That ‘would you rather…’ instant of blinding truth when you realize just what you want for yourself, no frills attached.

And then a couple of days ago I almost walked on top of a girl lying on the street, having just had a seizure. She was twelve years old. No one, save one young lady, was paying her attention. People were literally stepping over her on the sidewalk. She was twelve years old. This time I stopped to help. Not as a medical student, just as a human being with some semblance of concern for this girl (I can’t call her little – she was bigger than me) who was clearly in need of help.

It was a check-up, if you will. A little cosmic tap on the shoulder to inquire ‘do you still want this?’.

And strangely enough – despite the tedium, the challenges and the frustrations; despite the unhappiness that sometimes swathes me like a second skin – strangely enough, I do.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

Pax.