Apologies for my radio silence over the past week. I took a vacation to see my family, friends, and former students back home in the southern Great Plains. It proved to be an eventful trip.
I return to my childhood home rather infrequently, for several reasons. The journey spans 1500 miles and 10+ hours of travel from my current abode. As a resident physician, I have few days off and do not want to spend them crammed into questionably roadworthy buses and inhumanely tiny airplane seats. But, perhaps the biggest factor for my often extended absences from the windswept prairies of my youth is that I have always had difficulty identifying with the prevailing culture there. Even as a young kid, I knew I tended towards different sociopolitical leanings than did most of my peers. Not necessarily better leanings, just different. As I progressed through college, graduate school, and medical school, I slowly migrated eastward towards cultural centers with which I more closely identified. Nonetheless, family is family and home is home, and so, away to the heartland of America!
The family is doing well. My parents are nearing retirement and have begun to focus more on leisure activities, such as repainting various rooms in their house, than on the daily office grind. They have remained inveterate animal lovers, caring for the family’s aged diabetic cat, a sprightly young kitten, countless stray dogs, a troupe of ducklings, and two donkeys. My siblings are in school pursuing advanced degrees. When one returns home only once or twice per year, one must also “make the rounds” on all sorts of extended family members: grandparents, cousins, sketchy uncles recently released from the state pen, etc. Following a rather demanding itinerary set by my mother, I complete the obligatory luncheons and dinner meetings with these individuals and find that they too are doing well.
As noted in prior posts, I used to be a high school science teacher in a school district adjacent to the one I attended as a youth. This most recent trip home was timed to coincide with the graduation of a large contingent of my former students. As I watched them walk across the stage and receive their diplomas, as I spoke with them of their excitement and nervousness about attending college, and as I met with some of the incipient seniors who will graduate next year, I felt an uprising of pride and joy such as a parent must feel when watching their own child graduate. Truly, teaching is the most rewarding profession I have experienced, and I often wonder if I will one day abandon medicine and return to the classroom.
At the latter end of my vacation, I budgeted a few days’ sojourn on the East Coast to spend some time with my old grad school mentor, who is in his seventies. I am glad I did so. He developed a serious bacterial infection requiring hospitalization, and I spent most of the weekend sitting at the bedside in his hospital room. When he was not wracked by pain or slipping into fitful slumber, we spoke at length about a range of topics: from the mundane to the profound. He is one of the wisest human beings I have ever known, and though I would have preferred a more comfortable setting, I am grateful for the conversations we shared. He is recovering nicely from this present illness, but I know one day he will not. On that day, the world will lose a beacon of intelligence, reasoning, and humor, and I will lose the man who inspired me towards healthy discourse.
Thus went my vacation, after which I now need another vacation.