I am a second-year medical student and soon-to-be mother of two. Until I read Robert Morgan's compelling novel Gap Creek, I think I had absolutely no idea of how to imagine real hardship, even though I grew up in an underdeveloped country and saw it all around me and am now living an extraordinarily busy life as a physician-in-training, wife, mother, and woman trudging along on a faith journey that has many peaks and valleys.
Julie's faith journey, complete with its baptisms by fire and water, and confrontations with human weakness in almost every person she encounters, lead her to a renewed faith that reminded me so much of the restored faith I have discovered in med school, despite the expectations of others and the inability of many to believe in or understand my choices. When people say to me, "I don't know how you do it, being in med school with a family," I now feel like saying to them, "Read Gap Creek. I have a dishwasher. I don't have to kill, de-bone, gut, or de-fat any of the chicken, beef, pork, or fish I cook. I can get great drugs and medical care when I'm sick and clean, running hot water when I'm dirty. I have an extraordinary, supportive husband who knows and loves who he is, is free of complexes, and has unshakable faith. I have an amazing daughter who is the most joyful person I have ever known. I have a mind and body that work. I'm 'golden!'" I realized while I was reading this novel that despite my efforts to be grateful for all the conveniences and blessings of the day, I still take so much for granted. When I'm down to the last egg in the carton I am peeved that I have to run next door to buy more — for shame!
In medical school as well as in motherhood, sometimes it's been easy to give in to doubt and fear, to loneliness, to the helpless realization that there's so much pain in the world, and to the feeling that our little lives might not mean quite as much as we think. When Masenier died, Julie was filled with a sense of emptiness at the way the world simply moves on and keeps turning; oblivious to what is most precious and painful in our hearts. Yet she never lost the sense of wonder in that harsh but beautiful world, and it is this sense of wonder that can be a saving, healing grace that sustains a trembling faith such as mine. Morgan wrote an almost mystical passage describing Julie's dance among the falling leaves, in which his repetition of the word leaves over twenty times brought to life the very nature of what he was describing: a myriad of swirling leaves circling all around, with Julie circling among them, uniting her life and motion to theirs. I have had small moments like this, when the sight of a mist-covered peak over a river, or a scattering of stars in the sky over campus, reminds me that life is precious, and we are precious, despite the passage of time, the anonymity of our lives, and the vastness of the world.