This school year has been a crazy learning time and personal development time for me. Currently I am recovering from a stress fracture... that I got when I could barely run again after months of injury! What happened is I tried to do my first long run on trails and ended up turning my ankle a few times, avulsing the fibula, a non-weight bearing bone. This means that I can barely walk down stairs without shooting pain. So I effectively have gotten to run less than 10 days since September and my knee injury when running was my #1 stress-reliever, etc, etc. I may be able to run in two more weeks, which will make it six weeks since I last tried to run and eight weeks since the fibular injury.
This weeks news has brought me to an emotional location. The boston bombing is astounding. That could have been myself and my family. It was well after the elites, so in reality it will be professional Courtney 10 years from now once I have fallen out of shape during residency and getting back into shape with my family finally able to cheer me on... as I have a good amount of family in that area. And maybe some little ones also cheering me on (as having future kids may help me be out of shape due to juggling residency/new jobs/motherhood). We are treating it as a terrorist attack because actions such as that are unacceptable and we are going to ensure safe living circumstances for our own citizens. We try to establish it for the world, but we cannot determine the fate of other countries. Then the horrible destruction in Texas. So much destruction.
The most reflective moment comes with the death of my former advisor and in many ways hero Steve Arch. He was a big, lumbering man with destroyed knees who reliably sat in his office many days of the week with a dragonfly lamp lit. He played basketball at noon every tuesday thursday and was renowned for throwing elbows. He taught me so much in our conversations. I was scared to talk science with him as he was a neuroscience genius and could make anyone feel completely stupid if he wanted. He set up seminars that were from 8-10 at night where all the students sat around, drank a beer, and talked about the latest research. That is the life. Waking up your mind as you relax the body, where learning knows no limits.
But what he taught me went so beyond the classroom. I remember one time sitting down with him and him asking me, seemingly out of nowhere "if you're going out with a group of friends to eat, where would you go?" and I thought about all the exotic food I would love to try and started to respond maybe the moroccan restaurant with belly dancers, or a thai restaurant, or... and he cut me off "No, you're going out with friends. It doesn't matter where you eat, what matters is the company." Another time I was upset about friends trying different drugs that I considered completely unacceptable (heroin, etc) and discussed that with him and during our discussion he agreed with me but also reminded me how to be more open-minded. That people's curiosity is what drives us into science and to make the greatest discoveries of all time. What we don't want to do is condemn curiosity or the vision or exploratory nature. A wonderfully contrasted point of view to the narrow one I presented (not that he condoned the use of heroin).
In many ways he embodies for me what it means to be a real man, what it means to be strong in our convictions. In those talks he taught me so much. So much about passion and perspective. The need to explore, be curious, to question and undermine our everyday assumptions, whether they be about health, science, biology, physics, people, etc, etc. I ran my first marathon while his advisee and he was proud, but recommended against doing a second because it takes so much time that could be invested in something else (I also took carpinetry lessons, joined both a flamenco and hip-hop dance troupe, and most importantly spent many many many hours in the laboratory doing mediocre work.... as science takes training and focus and i had inadequate training for good work at that point). Only after his death did I find out that he had been offered a slot to play professional football with the chicago bears that he turned down to attend graduate school. Because waking up the mind and exploring the world was in his eyes the essence of life, as was his family and love. Sports was just a small part of it all.
As I go forward I will try to remember all those things he did teach me about being strong: forceful yet kind, intimidating yet caring. He wrote poetry that he only let me see once... after I showed him some poetry about DNA replication experiments that I had written. His poetry was not meant to be shared. It was meant to help him appreciate the details and intricacies of the world around us. I am so sure that if more people got to have an adviser like Steve Arch in their lives that the world would be a much better, interesting, and functional place. I know that if I had kept in better touch with him I probably would have made much better decisions about my daily life and choices and time devotion. He told me that to become what I want to become I need to be reliable and predictable. This is one of the hardest traits for me to develop... what something shiny? Yes I do want to go look at it... oh I had an appointment? Yet being predictable is one of the key traits of being a doctor or a teacher. People need to depend on me to take their call and be in my office.
This has been a week of tears and studying and not running. Usually I would process the meaning of all this while running. But I cannot. So I will clean my house, push my vacuum, do some lunges, and think about how fortunate I am to have the people I have. And how I can change the world so that people do not die in needless explosions. Whether it be due to a fertilizer plant or another human being. We need to be strong, curious, and explore to find better answers than the ones we have.