I studied abroad in Argentina my Sophomore year of college. I knew no one going on the trip with me, however its safe to say that after 6 weeks in the freezing cold Andes Mountains together, we are now friends for life. I spoke no Spanish really. The few vocabulary words I picked up in high school were muddled in the thick Castillano accent and use of the vosotros. That didn’t stop people speaking to me though, which was a nice gesture but frankly wasted on me. Each one of us got sick at some point on the trip. I felt like I got off easy getting a cold from the 14 hour plane ride. Every time I sneezed our professor—who we respectfully nicknamed Pachamama—the earth goddess revered by the people in the Andes—would exclaim, “Salud, dinero, amor.” One word after each sneeze. Those words I understood and the recognition of these three things as important enough to remind a stuffed up, freezing cold, slightly dirty and exhausted undergrad got me thinking more about what really matters. I suppose its fitting that I should be reminded of these words now—in med school—when all three seem to be in such short supply.
Health. Training to become a doctor has made me acutely aware of how much illness and injury there is. Do you have any idea how many things can go wrong with a human being? It’s a miracle that any of us are even here at all. No nuclear blast has pushed us into a post-apocalyptic existence. We didn’t die from the multitude of diseases that exist on this planet. And not to mention everything with every single one of our relatives went well enough that they were at least able to live long enough to reproduce. And here you are, the product of a million close calls, thousands of chance encounters, perfect circumstances, perfect timing and lots and lots of people falling in love.
But don’t celebrate just yet my little miracle. Health will not last forever. It never does. Illness will touch your life—if it hasn’t already. Sometimes we’ll be able to fix it, or at least hold off its tightening grip for a time—and other times we won’t be able to stop it. Life is life threatening my precious snowflake. Be healthy. Eat vegetables and run outside. Wear sunscreen and your seatbelt. Wash your hands. And appreciate health when you have it. And when it runs out, remember that we are carbon based life forms. We are all made of stardust and to the stars we are destined to return. Our time here on earth is just temporary. Make sure it counts.
Money. Ugh. Money. My high school self would be quick to raise her hand and interject that money is not important. As the daughter of a doctor and an engineer—and growing up in Tiburon—denouncing the pursuit and benefits of money are easy for me to do. Money isn’t a problem until you don’t have any. And money buys more than just stuff—it buys health. You can live in a better neighborhood, eat better food, take vacations (and other soul nurturing things) when you have a hefty bank balance. Money can take your life from surviving the days to relishing them.
Recently, I have been seeing a great number of my friends buy houses, take nice trips and perhaps the most expensive endeavor of all—having children. I feel like less of adult because I’m not able to afford any of these things. Money is powerful—each dollar is like a vote towards the things that are important to you. Money allows us to take music lessons and have nicer clothes and not worry about how many more miles we can drive until the car will go no further. Money matters—although sometimes I really wish it didn’t. You’ll have success—far beyond the average American my friend—it just can’t be right this minute. The delayed gratification will be all the sweeter. And remember when you’re the one taking home a paycheck --some hungry med students would love you to take them to lunch.
Love. This one’s the kicker. In fact, if you don’t have the other two (money or health) love can get you pretty darn far on its own. Love makes us do crazy things. Brave things. Things that without love we would be otherwise unable to achieve. I’m not talking about running though an airport to stop someone getting on a flight (honestly doing that would probably just get you put on the FBI watch list). Love helps you get up early to go to work or to school. It helps you return the phone call to your nagging relatives that you would really rather ignore. Love is why people sit in traffic or go to movies they don’t want to see. Love is a great sacrifice and a wonderful gift and I wish it for you always. May you know how very loved you are and in turn may you show the world and everyone around you how great love is and all of the wonderful things we can do with it.
Remember that love is a choice we make every day. Not just to the people in your family or close friends but to every human being. Chose love. Chose to stand up to hate. Don’t cut people off in traffic (and if you do, then at least wave). Show patience when it is hard to do so—because I guarantee that you have been the recipient of another’s patience. Show up for each other. Let each other off the hook and give others the benefit of the doubt.
If you’ve ever felt the deep ache of heartbreak or the stabbing knife of grief, then you’ve known love to its fullest and the emptiness it leaves behind. It’s the price we pay as humans. Love will bring pain into our lives and in turn will be the only thing to fully heal the hurt.
I wish you a life full of health, wealth and love. And I hope you are reminded of how important these things are--every time you sneeze.