Life is funny.
It’s hard, and sometimes it’s miserable. Usually self-inflicted misery, but honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m being punished for breaking rules I didn’t know existed. Failing to live up to some impossible standard I’m not equipped to reach. For not knowing, 18 years ago, that I should have stopped eating flour and sugar and started weighing out my food.
Worse, it can feel pointless. Random, without any sense or direction to it – like we’re all alone, with no one running the show. No rules, no guarantees, just chaos. Like the scale moving up 3 pounds after a perfect week of bright lines. No reason. No explanation. Just because.
And then, sometimes, life is unexpectedly beautiful.
In my last post, I told you about my sadness – a confusing, debilitating emotion, hiding behind hunger and showing up in unexpected and inconvenient places. It’s still tracking with me, haunting my steps. It leaves me alone for a while, but it’s not gone. It hit me again over the weekend, triggered by something that seemed insignificant. Pain for no apparent reason.
But this past week, despite the sadness, I’ve also been given some reasons to be happy.
I’ve started walking, again. I’ve been inconsistent over the summer, but I’m really trying to put my books aside and get up on my feet for an hour a day. During one of my recent solitary walks, I was contemplating my future. My shadowy, uncertain future. And as I wondered about what would happen to me, picturing that moment when my 1st exam results would arrive and I would be faced with the reality of the word Fail typed out in black and white, I felt a familiar rush of panic rising up, squeezing the air out of my chest. That horrible sense of impending doom. No matter how much I tried to rationalize, to tell myself that failing an exam wouldn’t be the end of the world, I couldn’t reason away that feeling. As usual, I gave up, and searched for something else to think about, to distract me.
And then, for the first time, I felt something else. It’s hard to describe. A fleeting thought, a small voice, a daydream – I don’t know. I can only tell you that it felt like someone was speaking to me. Telling me that it was going to be ok. That I could start planning my future. That I didn’t have to be afraid.
Now, understand, I am not one to hear voices. I talk to God, but I don’t hear him talking back. And I wasn’t – and still am not – convinced that this was him. It could very well have been my own mind, some unconscious part of me, simply trying to calm the rest of me down by telling me what I wanted to hear. I’ve had plenty of interesting conversations inside my own head, in the last several months. This could have been more of the same.
But it didn’t feel the same. This voice gave me a sense of peace different from anything I’d accomplished by separating out and arranging my own thoughts. This was something else. Even as I argued with this voice, mistrustfully, I hoped.
I didn’t come to any conclusions, so I adopted a wait-and-see position. I wasn’t going to count on anything, but I felt a little less anxious, and that was a good thing. A little hope never hurt anyone.
Shortly afterwards, I had my 2nd board exam – the safety and practical sections. I am terrible at practical exams. Everything I ever knew flies out of my head when I’m in front of an evaluator. I panic. I freeze. And I couldn’t afford any of that, this time. I was praying. Hard.
I signed a paper agreeing not to discuss the exam, so I can’t go into detail. But the jist of it is, during one of the simulations, I caught myself making a silly error. And spent precious time trying to fix that error. Was thoroughly flustered, by the time I had it figured out. Which led to a complete shut down of my mental processes. I blanked out for – I think – 2 whole minutes. Watching the clock run down. Surrounded by the fear – emanating from myself, my partner, and my evaluators – that I was not going to remember what I was supposed to do next. Feeling my chance of success slipping away, while I stood there, immobilized. Then, without making a conscious decision, I was suddenly in action. Words were coming out of my mouth – I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what they were. My hands were moving as if they didn’t belong to me. With 30 seconds left, I performed the procedure. I have only my partner’s assurance that it was the right one.
That wasn’t me. I froze. I failed. The information was somewhere in my brain, but it was stuck. I couldn’t get at it. I couldn’t move. Those 30 seconds of action were all God: moving my hands, my feet, my mouth. Because I know, with certainty, it wasn’t me.
Two days after that 2nd exam, I got the letter about the first. Five & 1/2 weeks after writing it. Five & 1/2 weeks of trying, and failing, to see how I could have possibly passed it.
And no matter how much I studied, how hard I worked to assimilate that information, I know I didn’t deserve to pass that exam.
Early this afternoon, my parents called me. Over the weekend, they won a trip to Cuba. It’s in November, and they can’t go. They’re giving it to me.
Unexpected. Undeserved. Extravagant.
I wrestled with the decision of whether or not to share these stories with you. First of all, I’m not sure what they all mean. I don’t know if God really spoke to me while I walked. I don’t have the results of my 2nd exam – heavenly assistance or not, I still may have failed.
Second, I know some people are really, really annoyed by the whole #blessed! phenomenon – seeing people express thankfulness for their blessings online can trigger feelings of envy or inferiority. It’s not something that bothers me, personally, but I have no desire to be accused of insensitivity to others.
But life is messy, and that’s part of my point, today. It isn’t always understandable, even with deliberate reflection. If I only shared things in my life that I understand, I’d have precious little to talk about. And I sincerely doubt that anyone could read my posts and come away with the impression that I’m trying to present a neat & tidy, photoshopped version of my reality with the intention of producing jealousy and boosting my own sense of self-worth. Even in this community, where we all struggle on a daily basis, I think we can agree that I’m pretty messed up. I don’t hide that.
I just want you to know that, no matter how messed up I am, I’ve been reminded, this week, that I am loved.
I didn’t need a vacation to a tropical paradise. No one needs that. It’s a luxury. But he gave it to me anyway. He reminded me that he does care. That even though I’m not the only one in the world who’s had to spend years of their lives learning medicine, and then months cramming for an impossible exam, he sees me. He knows how hard it’s been. And he’s taking care of me.
I didn’t deserve to pass that 1st exam. I might have worked hard, but I should have worked harder. I spent the month of May struggling with eating more than anything else. When I think of all the wasted time, when I could have been making more study notes, ingesting information instead of searching for food and distraction, I am deeply ashamed. He could have let me suffer the natural consequences of that behaviour. Taught me a lesson in self-discipline. I was ready for that. But he didn’t. He let me pass in spite of my failures as a human being.
He didn’t have to rescue me during my 2nd exam. He could have let me fall, learn from my own mistakes. He could have comforted me afterwards, the way I tend to my niece’s bruises after they try something reckless and dangerous. Of course, he also could have arranged it so that I didn’t go through those 2 minutes of panic in the 1st place. He could have helped my brain to function properly, as I’ve asked him so many times in the past. But he didn’t do either of those things. He made sure that I would come away from this knowing that he’d been in that room with me. That I hadn’t done this on my own.
And that little nudge, that voice in my mind that let me hope – well, I don’t know exactly what to think about that. It may seem, objectively, to be the smallest of these gifts. It was a few words of comfort that I still don’t understand. They didn’t transform my doubt into confidence. They didn’t take away my fear. When I got that letter, I was shaking. My insides felt like they were being sucked out of me. And I’m still not taking anything for granted – I could very well be waiting another 6 months to re-do this 2nd exam before I can start thinking about setting up practice. Four weeks from now, I may be sending out my resume looking for teaching positions. But that little voice still means more to me than a trip to Cuba. I couldn’t convince myself that everything was going to be ok, but when I remember that voice, I believe it. Everything is going to be ok. I don’t know how, but it will. I’ve got someone looking over me.
There is someone behind the apparent randomness of the universe. Who takes all the chaos and turns it into order. Who understands my weaknesses, and doesn’t punish me for them. Whose forgiven – and forgotten – my worst self-indulgent binges.
Who cries with me when I miss my dog.
He will take care of me. He is taking care of me.