The Great Equalizer

April 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

I went to a symposium on medicine and arts at the Sackler Museum in Cambridge today, which marks my fifth day in a museum in the past two weeks. I’ll write more later about why I’ve become such a gallery groupie… in medical school. It was such a full day: dramatic readings of Sophocles’ Phloctetes and Women of Trachis, a tremendous narrative medicine workshop with Dr. Suzanne Koven, lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club, then an hour-long poetry reading by Dr. Rafael Campo. I left after that to spend the rest of the afternoon in Lamont Library with my Immunology notes for company.

We talked a great deal about pain most throughout the day. Coming off of a particularly emotionally draining week, I felt each discourse resonate and reify in my consciousness, building a solid element that I could grapple with. I had been thinking about pain quite a bit lately, and its role in the human psyche. Whether pain is worth it. Whether pain carries a sense of nobility or just plain degradation. Whether pain brings about clarity through an expansion of our experience or by blotting out everything inessential. But rather than present a grand conclusion about life and its tenuousness, I’ll offer three perspectives instead. (italics my own)


Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there was
A time when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

-Emily Dickinson


“I see no reason or need for my doctor to love me – nor would I expect him to suffer with me… I just wish he would brood on my situation for perhaps five minutes, that he would give me his whole mind just once, be bonded with me for a brief space, survey my soul as well as my flesh, to get at my illness, for each man is ill in his own way.”

-Anatole Broyard


For once in your life just let it go.

-Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking

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