It has been ages since I blogged. No major story. Just never could bring myself to sit at the keyboard and share. The internet has turned much darker than when I started blogging a decade ago. I didn’t want to add to the darkness but wasn’t sure how to open the window and let in the light. There is a great deal of evil in the world that needs to be confronted. But when I address it in writing and shine a light on it to reveal its true form, it casts a shadow. And that shadow is permanent because words on the internet never really die. So while I have written dozens of blog posts in my head, none have made it through my fingers to the keyboard and resided on this virtual page. Until today.
Last week I read Back to Work by John Waters in the First Things journal. Like many of the articles in First Things, it is a longish piece that is best read slowly in a comfortable chair with a relaxing beverage in hand. Like your drink, this pieces needs to be sipped and savored. Mr. Waters points out that with the development of modern technologies, many of us find ourselves several degrees removed from tangible productivity. We are extraordinarily busy but at the end of the day, what can we touch and say, “I did this”? There is an emptiness that accompanies all of this virtual work.
My youngest son expressed something similar. He has done manual labor and he has done office work. He laments that his college education has “promoted” him to the clean and comfortable cubicle but it does not feel near as satisfying as sweat producing physical labor. His peers are similarly disillusioned. What is the point of all this number crunching and report producing?
When I practiced clinical medicine, I loved doing medical procedures. They were the antidote to visit after visit that focused on treating lab numbers and vital signs. Sewing up a laceration or reducing a dislocated joint offers immediate feedback about my intervention.
Now that I am in academia, the feedback is much slower. I give my lectures and answer student questions then give exams to see how much information was absorbed. But I am not educating these students to pass exams. I am preparing them to go out into the world and be nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, or other health professionals. I will never know the impact of my class for most of my students. I treasure the occasional note announcing an acceptance to medical school or dental school because it lets me know that, yes, my work has meaning.
This need to be tangibly productive is probably why my hobbies include cooking, gardening, sewing, and occasionally refinishing furniture. Preparing a simple meal that is perfectly seasoned with herbs from my garden gives me far more pleasure than elucidating the intricacies and complex interactions of the endocrine system. I love medicine. I love talking about it. I love teaching it. But when I am done talking and teaching, what do I have to show for it? Tender ravioli with just the right amount of chopped sage leaves, colorful chopped peppers and garlic in a browned butter sauce ignites the physical senses of sight, taste, smell, and touch. Canning twenty-five pounds of tomatoes into quarts of tasty sauce feels like a crowning achievement. Last night I finished my first experiment with chalk paint and turned a dated thrift shop wine cabinet into something a little more cute and trendy.
So perhaps that is another reason why these blog pages have been silent for so long. I needed to experience real people in my real physical world. The internet can be a powerful connector across the miles. It can offer words that need to be heard at just the right time. But it is a mistake to let it replace live person-to-person interactions. Just as we sometimes need to physically see the fruits of our labors, we need to physically experience the fruits of our relationships.