09 October 2011

Verghese the artist

A few days ago I finished reading Abraham Verghese's novel Cutting for Stone, a story wrought with human frailty, but also with the human ability to overcome, to love and to be redeemed. I was powerfully affected by the depth of the characters-- their capacity for love and for hate, to help and to harm; their incredible strength as well as their incomprehensible weaknesses; the paths they choose and the places and people they are led to by destiny, fate, or the intervention of divinity. I was also stunned at the beauty and emotion Verghese evoked in medical settings, images and terminology, something I am usually rather wary of, or even slightly disturbed by.

Then, I unexpectedly chanced upon this TED video. And I am not surprised to hear the sincerity and tenderness with which Verghese speaks of his patients and the powerful role of touch in the relationship between doctors and patients. I see in the rituals of medicine Verghese talks about the same nuance and skill, the same comprehension of the human heart and human connectedness that he uses to so beautifully craft his novel. And I fully believe that for Verghese, medicine is an art. And that he is asking that we treat it that way. He asks that doctors be careful and loving with their patients; that they seek to understand before they attempt to treat; that they know and love each person fully; that they take pains to make their work beautiful and every case important; that they take pride in knowing that they have not only invested their intellect, but also their hearts in this work; that they will know they have used their gifts and talents to their full extent in order to heal and to comfort. For thus does medicine become truly sacred. A true form of art.

And it inspires me to be an artist. Wherever I am, whatever I do, I want to invest myself in my work in such a way that it takes on deeper meaning; that I can feel pride in what I have created. For me art, in any form, is terrifying. It requires vulnerability. It requires that we put everything we have into what we do, and that if it doesn't work, we must confess our failed. But it is also only giving our all that we can ever do anything truly great, that we really succeed. And I do not mean that we do something important in the eyes of the world-- that we will be recognized or lauded for our work. But when we use our whole hearts, our whole minds, every gift we have been given, then does our work, and our lives, begin to be a true representation of ourselves. Of the unique individuals we are. I am not there yet, but I hope that one day, I can look at my life and see something worthy of being called art.

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