Two Kinds of Tension

The first is not-at-all foreign.

I’m comfortable with the kind of tension

that has come from my choosing:

— A career as an anesthesiologist

   and an education administrator

— Not having children of my own

— Responsibility for 1100 trainees

    who I want to (but can’t) know individually

— Institutional obligation to a role and

   personal obligation to my heart

The second is completely foreign.

I’m not (yet?) comfortable with the kind of tension

that has not come from my choosing:

— Do I need to dedicate more time somewhere else?

— What will it be like to lose a parent?

— What else (like meditation) have I neglected

    or forgotten?

— What else haven’t I (ever) thought about?

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This person had always identified strongly with her career as a physician and medical educator. She felt she’d been lucky, both in her career and life, because both were full of meaning (and relatively full of ease). The last few months in her leadership role during COVID-19 had tested her. It was the tension outside of her work, however, that she’d really begun to notice for the first time in her life. “My mom was in the hospital twice this summer,” she said. “It could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Even though I’m a physician and my parents are 86 and 87, I’d never thought about what it would be like to lose a parent.” As I listened to her share, it was evident that tension was not foreign to her in her professional role. Perhaps, though, there were other kinds of tension she hadn’t yet encountered that were knocking on her door. “I’d like the poem to leave me curious,” she said. “Perhaps it could point me toward something I hadn’t seen before.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

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