Being the Light

I remember when I was in residency years ago there was a patient I had who had a stroke. She called the office from her stroke rehabilitation center and was speaking to our nurse as I was busily seeing patients. The nurse came and asked me to come chat with the patient on the phone. I looked at him and asked, “I am about 30 minutes behind and have patients to see, can I call her back?” This particular nurse was extremely understanding so it was interesting when he urged saying “I think she really needs your encouragement”. I thought to myself, I am just a resident, who cares what I have to say? Are you sure there isn’t a more important doctor she wants to talk to? How can I possibly be important to her? I acquiesced and went to chat with her.

            As I picked up the phone it was as if I could already feel her hopelessness and defeat. She started crying as she said, “Hello Dr. Taylor”. Immediately, nothing else mattered, being behind in the clinic, the mountain of tasks and notes that needed to be completed, not even any of my own life stressors. I began talking to her as she expressed how hard it was to rehabilitate from the recent stroke. Tears filled my eyes as I opened my heart and spoke from it. I connected with her and was unafraid of how I might sound or how I might be received. We decided together that she would give it her all for the first six months no matter how hard it was because this was the most critical time in recovering function since her stroke. By the end of the conversation, her tears had stopped and we together felt her resolve to recover all she could return.

            Now, after my own stroke, I can’t help but be grateful for the people who have let me cry, then connected with me fully, openly, and without abandon, and spoke from their hearts. In the hospital- the nurse, assistant, and all the physicians. As an outpatient my cardiologist, psychiatrist, and neurologist who took the extra time to give some encouragement despite being crazy busy with the pandemic. Not just the medical personnel but people who were unafraid to open their hearts, to feel, to cry with me, and make it a safe space for me to cry.

            It hurts when sometimes in my life I have been accused of being “too emotional” but I always knew that staying in that kind and open state was what helped my patients the most. Honestly, it does not seem to translate into other parts of my life as well as I would hope, but despite the criticism, I’ve been proud of my ability to make a safe space for others. When I worked in person the joke was “Dr. Taylor’s making them cry again” knowing full well these were tears of relief and validation. More than once a day patients would tell me something and say “I’ve never told anybody that before”. They would cry and (depending on the patient) we would hug or I would hold their hand. I always felt honored to bear witness to a fellow soul feeling safe enough to share vulnerable information and grow.

            My point in all of this is sometimes we are so afraid to be open, to be honest about our own struggles, and to be human but this is vitally important. How can another person feel that they are allowed to be human if the other person is afraid of being fully human? By human, I mean being honest about our struggles, being open and non-judgmental, and finding even the tiniest way to relate to others’ deep wounds as a means to open the door to healing. As Rumi says, in one of my favorite quotes “the wounds are where the light enters you”.

            My own radical openness about my pain, my struggles and the lessons I have learned (seemingly in the most painful ways sometimes) is uncomfortable and quite frequently the target of another’s attacks. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt when somebody turned my vulnerability into a weapon to hurt me with but these people are those who are in the most pain. While I’ve learned to be more guarded about who I give my light to by sharing I have never regretted being authentic and honest. Perhaps, in that moment, the other party was unable to receive the light because they had never experienced it or they were afraid that, like an egg, if they let any cracks start they would burst open and let all their insides out. For most, I might never know why I became a target instead of a source of comfort. Something I certainly do know is that being open, unafraid to share, and authentically me overall has done more good than harm for both myself and the whole world. My hope is that my truth will inspire others to share their truth, and like dominoes, the whole world will let their walls fall to reveal the beautiful light they contain to help heal others.