The message you need to hear may come when you least expect it. And when you most need it.
We are most certainly living in unprecedented times. We have been riding the crest of a wave that we have all known for some time now, deep down inside of ourselves, could only come crashing down. That’s what waves do. They come crashing down. We could not, however, have fathomed how spectacularly this wave has crashed.
Lately, I have been feeling like the embodiment of the yin and yang symbol. Duality, the existence of two, seemingly opposing but perhaps complementary, forces occurring at once. A seed of one within the other. A seed of fear, panic even, within a sea of calm. Similarly, a seed of calm, hope even, trying to keep afloat in a roiling sea of fear. Waves do crest and fall within the same sea. Instead of calm and hope, however, it was my fear that was powerfully cresting this morning.
As I was considering my way forward, how to run a business that is the antithesis of physical distancing, I received a call from a long-time patient. Did he have an appointment, he asked. Yes, he, in fact, did have an appointment. In fact, all weekend, I knew he was on my schedule. All weekend, I had wondered about how he was making it through another day, wondering if he was continuing to suffer with the significant pain that I had been treating him for the week prior. And, yes, I was in the office, making myself available for whoever needed care – an adjustment, a clinical nutrition consultation, or just a listening ear. Through my personal ups and downs and through the professional ups and downs of running this practice, it has become abundantly clear that this is my mission in life. In my lowest moments, for whatever long-forgotten reason, walking into my chiropractic treatment room is the most centering, most calming, most rewarding experience I have ever felt. Everything falls away and the ocean stills.
So far, this morning, I had a long telephone conversation with a patient who was missing her regular adjustment. Along with her regular adjustment was always connection time. Today, it was only connection time. She had left a message inquiring if I was still in the office, available to see patients, and would I please call and let her know. I called. We checked in. We connected.
And then, my first patient arrived. We acknowledged the strangeness of the time. We checked in, each of us, about how we were holding up. We, as we have often done in the past, imagine what his wife’s reaction may have been to our current predicament. His wife, a long-time patient, died of colon cancer some years ago. We remember her, in some small way, at each visit. Today, he was treated, he purchased the supplements that supported his continued good health, and we scheduled his next appointment. Business as usual. Except, caring for people is never business as usual. It’s meaningful stuff. It’s what makes us human. How do we know that meaningful connection isn’t an antidote to a roiling sea, to a crashing wave? And, just in case, we both used the disinfectant on the counter.
My next patient of the day spends much of her time in Africa where she, long ago, had been scoffed at for being another white woman with a savior complex. Except, this white woman returned year after year and, ultimately, banished the stigma of the white savior. She is a for-real amazing woman. And I am in absolute awe of her. I am a sponge to her oceans of experience. And, today, she could only marvel about how much better she has feels after being adjusted. And, here I am, feeling like she has been cheated because I am so beyond filled up with the richness of one of her meaningful-in-this-kind-of-a-moment stories. We are each other’s antidote. And, just in case, we both used the disinfectant on the counter.
The patient who had called earlier to confirm his appointment is next to arrive. I greet him and notice, immediately, that he is not his usual self. He tells me he had only just woken up an hour earlier, and, upon waking, his first thought was of having this appointment. Hence, his earlier call to confirm. He certainly looked tired, his eyes puffy. I knew that he had been prescribed something for his pain, and I asked about it. He affirmed that he had taken two doses, which helped to combat the sleeplessness that his pain was causing. I knew that taking any medications was very new to him and it was clearly new territory for him. Soon, he was tearing up, his voice quivering with emotion, as he described the epiphany that he had just experienced.
“I have a gift,” he explained. His eyes brimmed with tears. “And, you must have this same gift,” he genuinely said to me. He was truly awestruck at his epiphany. He described how he has the ability to see, to know, how things fit together. Much like, he imagined, I could see and know how the body moved. He went on to describe how he had become an architect, confessing some moments that, in another place and time, he may not have confessed. Nothing serious, he was a harsher critic of himself than anyone else could come close to being. He humbly described himself as an adequate architect. And then he went on to describe a series of serendipitous moments that lead to a fulfilling career. “Plum” was the word he used to describe one of his assignments.
He kept apologizing for monopolizing my time with his story, but he went on to say that he couldn’t believe that it took him 70-plus years to realize that he had a gift. As his epiphany spilled out, I thought about how we all have a gift. And that we are greater together than we are apart.
The beauty, I told him, was that despite not having conscious awareness of his obvious gifts, he had pursued a career that was completely in line with his gifts and his talents. He continued to be in awe of discovering that he had a gift. “Like Bob Dylan!” he implored, “Dylan used to say, ‘Can’t you hear the music?’ Dylan could hear the music in his head! And, I can see how things fit together!” Whether or not it was the medication talking, it was a beautiful moment.
And he continued in his awestruck revelation. There were those who told him that he could never do it, and “that!” he said “was just the encouragement I needed.” He believed he could do it and he did. The point that he stressed repeatedly was that he never succumbed to depressive thinking. He stressed that he couldn’t have done it without maintaining an attitude that he could achieve his goal of becoming an architect. He believed.
He again apologized for taking up my time with his story. As I listened to him, I had been thinking about my own feelings of fear about the complicated road ahead, and I said to him, “perhaps, your story needed to be heard.” Because I needed to hear his story. I needed, in that very moment, to hear his message. I needed to believe that I had gifts that contributed to the community, to the greater good. And nobody can take my gifts away from me. They can take my house and they can take my stuff, but they can’t take me.
And here was my antidote, filling my spirit with hope, apologizing for monopolizing my time and thanking me for listening. I did indeed have to take my leave, having to make my next appointment, a phone consultation with a patient in Iowa. As I left him, I realized that my next patient was 3 degrees of separation from him. I thanked him for his story and the gift of his message, and I felt compelled to tell him that he was ultimately to thank for my next patient, and let him know the chain of referrals, starting with him, which led to my next, also very dear, patient.
We can never know what impact we have on someone. My only hope is that I have and that I may continue to positively impact the lives of not only the patients I have been blessed with over the years, but also my friends, my family, and even strangers on the street.
We are all connected. We are all gifts to each other.
Waves of gratitude are crashing down to eliminate my roiling sea of fear.
With love and gratitude, Dr. Candace Salmi