The Language of Life


I was once a decent musician. I played the piano and two types of saxophones. Okay, if you can play one type of saxophone, the key layout is the same…
My first college major was music. I wrote sheet music and helped local musicians write hooks. Yet, I eventually found my way to the biology department. Life became more science than music.
When I took my first music class, our teacher introduced music as a language. He called it the universal language. Just as years of Spanish allowed me to understand spoken and written expression, years of musical training allowed me to read and write in the language of music. Interestingly, just as my infrequent use of Spanish now limits my current understanding, so has gone the way of music. I began reading old sheet music for the piano and felt like a beginner again.
Then I thought about something: maybe music is not the universal language. Not everyone can read it and most people cannot understand it’s complexities. What of math, then? Music is a beautifully mathematical language. Could it not be that math is the universal language that binds us after all? Yet, there are many great musicians born blind and have never seen a math equation.
And there it is.
To live and experience all the sorrows and pains, joys and laughter under the sun binds humanity across all languages. It is expressed in the mathematical harmony of music we use as the soundtrack to our lives. Pain is not limited to ethnicity, country, or color. Joy is not preserved for American speakers of English. The same hormones are released in the stress response in our bodies when you and I see the hypothetical whatever that scares you/stresses you most. Life, lived full and wide, is not without pain and heartache. Pain is not limited to physical loss of another human or tangible material thing. Yet, this full life experience and range of emotional response we have is what knits humanity together as one. My pain may never be worn on my sleeve or written on my face, yet I can relate that emotion to the place that has caused you pain. The same goes for those times of great joy. In this, it is human emotion that is the universal language. You need not understand Spanish to interpret laughter. You do not have to read music to hear the song of tears. You only need an open heart.

The picture is one of the exercises from The Saxophonist’s Workbook by Larry Teal – as seen through my glasses.


Human Medicine

Still not done with my paper, I calculated how late I would be that afternoon. I stood in the hallway waiting for Dr. B to finish up an appointment. I checked the time and logged my hours before going to the triage room to chat with the nurses about the weekend ahead and random happenings. Before I could walk in, a little girl of about three or four walked out the rest room ahead of me. She was probably the only preschooler I have seen “sa-shay” instead of walk. She had her hands on her hips and looked back at her mom as if to say ‘hurry up!’ She was incredibly bubbly and her personality was brighter than her coordinated spring outfit, painted orange toenails and jelly sandals. Her mom finally came behind her as they went back into the open exam room. As Dr. B and I made our way to other patients, I wondered if that little bubbly preschooler would be getting shots. I hoped she wouldn’t cry.
We finally made our way to the bubbly preschooler. Dr. B introduced me and I said hello, waved at the mother and then the little girl. This little girl not only smiled, but after finally seeing through her dark brown curls, I realized even her eyelids creased when she smiled. I wondered as I usually do with the younger kids “Where will they be in ten or twenty years?” I always hope that the happy ones would remain so.
As the mother spoke quietly with Dr. B about paper work, the little girl began playing hide-and-seek. Okay, more like peek-a-boo…I could still see her but she covered her eyes so I guess I disappeared…? I usually try to pay attention to catch any information about the history before Dr. B tells me the diagnosis. My little distraction, however, made sure I was oblivious until Dr. B turned to me.
“Little E has an inoperable tumor on her brainstem. She’s here for clearance to get an MRI.” Dr. B said.
“…oh…” I murmured.
“She has been getting treatment and we need to know if it is working. From what I can tell, she has a lot more energy than before treatments began.” Dr. B said, picking up Little E and placing her on the exam table.
“Yes, she looks great!” I said. What a relief. This little girl is getting treatment. She just needs a follow-up to be sure everything is going well.
Dr. B examined her and cleared her chart for the MRI. No shots, no tears. Actually, anytime you look at this little girl, she smiles. Genuinely.
Her mother, who was just a bit more subdued than she, thanked Dr. B as I put her paperwork together. They went toward checkout and Dr. B and I went back to her office past the mural of children playing happily and caring for each other on the wall.
I walked in behind Dr. B and pulled my notes from my front pocket. I wanted to ask her more about the pathophysiology of the glioma.
“The glioma,” she began, “is in the brainstem, near the nucleus of the sixth cranial nerve. Our first clue when she presented were her eyes. When I first saw her, she was doing quite poorly. But look at her. She is in treatment and doing well.”
I thought about her ‘peek-and-seek’ play and agreed. “I see. She has so much personality, too. She’s such a pleasant kid.”
Dr. B sat at her desk, put her tablet down and turned back to me. “I wanted to let you know she is not expected to live beyond the end of the year.”
My heart fell to my stomach, even if only metaphorically.
Not this girl. Not this bubbly, beautiful spirit. Not this three-year-old with a lifetime of giving smiles, laughter, and joy. No, this girl just hid her face from me and thought I disappeared. Not this beautiful, bright soul that still has so much to give this dark, cloudy world.
Not her.
I sat back, surprised at the stinging feeling of salty tears falling into the dry skin across my cheeks. I thought about why I became interested in human medicine. I thought about how depressed I was when I received a rejection and then two wait lists from medical school three years ago. I thought about how much of my life I had thought I would only be happy if I could get to this one point. Then I realized I was silently crying. With Dr. B’s back to me, I reached for a tissue at the edge of her desk. As I began wiping the tears before she could notice, she said, with her back still to me, “It’s okay. I’d worry more if that didn’t make you cry.”


For my thirtieth birthday, I cleaned out my journal drawer. Well, it is not really a drawer, it’s a cabinet under my writing desk. Okay, I digress. In cleaning out this cabinet, I became distracted by reading a few of these entries. I have kept a journal since I was seven, so needless to say it was a long distraction. Well, I came across the following note I wrote at seventeen. I think that seventeen-year-old was a psychic because they were words that spoke to this thirty-year-old. Below are a few of those words verbatim:

…Life hands us things that are gonna change us forever. Life can change our perspective on things for life’s challenges ahead. Life can be cruel, but it can cause us to take a look at ourselves differently. Change is something that is always gonna be around us and is always going to happen. But, I think and I have grown to realize that things happen for a reason. God puts things in your life to make you think and for change to come about inside you. If it were not for the changes in life, we would not grow.



So, looks like I get to share this milestone with a pretty awesome-or better yet, rad computer company. 1984 was a very good year. I am not too thrilled, however, about this milestone. There is a compelling urge to stay in the house hiding until the time machine model Civic is released in 2034 so that I can go back to “correct” the last thirty years. Here is how:
1. Go to Howard University. You got in…find the money wherever you can. You will NOT save money by staying home two years.
2. Do not change your major to music. You’re just going to change it back to biology AND it is a waste of a year.
3. Don’t date that guy you think is so nice. You were better off as friends. Keep it that way.
4. Apply to medical school, not, well…
6. Tell that guy you kinda like and think is cool but nerdy you think he’s cool but nerdy. He’s gonna leave your congregation and you will never see him again.
7. Keep contact with your mentors. They believed in you.
8. Take the risks. You really must. It won’t kill you.
9. Laugh. Be silly. Who cares what “they” think. “They” have more hang ups than you realize.
10. You really will want kids by this age.
11. You really will want a husband at this age.
12. Two cats do not make you a cat lady…but stop.
13. Your parents will still nag you about…everything. Agree and keep your mouth shut. And do not move back home.
14. Believe it or not (I’m walking on…) everyone is going natural!
15. Yes, you lived to see the first Black President.
16. …twice!!! Woot!!!
17. Worry less. I mean it. It is going to nearly kill you.
18. You are way smarter than you think you are (and “they” think you are).
19. You are stronger than you think you are. Really.
20. Call your friends more…and stop sending them to voicemail…
21. Finish your book. The world has been subjected to Twilight. Please, finish your book!
22. Love again.
23. Keep moving forward. No matter what comes against you; no matter how dark it gets; no matter how uncertain the future seems, keep moving through the fog.
24. Keep health insurance. When you lose it you will need it the most.
25. Hold on to your faith in God’s love for you and plan for your life.
26. Not everyone who looks like a bear will maul you.
27. Teaching will teach you more than you have ever learned in school.
28. Don’t answer the phone…yeah, forget #20…let it go to voicemail and screen all calls with a 9__ area code.
29. Save coupons and use judgement.
30. Believe in yourself. You will find you have the greatest surprises your heart will delight in. Why? Because you are a pretty awesome girl.

Here’s one to think about: I took this snapshot of the Apple website featuring the Macintosh timeline using my iPhone. It’s saved to my Macbook.


I keep looking over the rainbow for
Some place where the light burns brightly in my soul,
Some place where smiles are still known.
Somehow, I keep looking for you over my shoulder,
And I wonder where you are in the empty void.
I search for blue skies among the dark clouds,
Green grass in a barren land;
All so far away from the once upon a time we knew.
Somewhere over the rainbow, I see a life that could be.
When I look into your heart, my soul cries out from the pain.
You’ve become disillusioned and blind,
But you are still my love and always will be.
Only, now I see there is no more I can do.
There is no more I can say to you.
I look off to the horizon,
As the sun’s light fades from you.
My heart breaks
And tears held back with walls
Are now crashing down,
As the sun finally sets on my time with you.

From: We the People/To: Our Representatives


Just do your darned job already.



In January of 2011, I began working as an adjunct at a community college. I have taught anatomy and physiology, general biology, and tutored students in physics, chemistry, and biology. As an instructor, it is my responsibility to teach my students and deliver the material in a way that facilitates their understanding. There have been nights that I’ve stayed late to ensure my students understood the material, mornings I’ve come in early to work around my students’ schedules, and I’ve gone three days on a few hours of sleep just to get grades in on time. By the way, adjuncts do not get overtime.

Adjuncts also do not get benefits. Nevertheless, this was part of the job and my boss made sure I was aware of the drawbacks going in. So, I purchased insurance out-of-pocket. This is something I have done since my parents insurance dropped me at the age of twenty-three when I graduated from college. I am still in search of the privilege offered in a full-time job with my B.S. degree and now fifty-two hours worth of graduate level training in the hard sciences. Even so, I am still responsible for maintaining my premium no matter the cost (even when I went broke after our state could not pay us last summer).

Yet, this is not about my experience as an adjunct, my lack of benefits, or health care reform. This is about responsibility.

It is my responsibility to pay for my coverage. I keep this responsibility due to the health care costs I will incur should I let my coverage expire. I simply cannot afford the effects of going without even basic insurance coverage, even if I am only twenty-nine years old. Unfortunately, I really understood this when my parents rushed me to the emergency room a few weeks ago with stroke symptoms. The bills that have come as a result nearly sent me there again. I have health insurance and still owe a substantial amount of money for something which I don’t even remember all the details. Here again, I am responsible for paying my bills.

Why has responsibility become something that is debatable? Bills must be paid and paychecks must be given for work that must be done. If I do not pay a bill, I will either have service interrupted, something will be repossessed, and possibly a third-party will intervene. This is what Sponge Bob’s grandmother meant when she told him going to work late would not be the adult thing to do. You are an adult. And adults must meet their responsibilities. However, what I have witnessed from my beloved country is exactly the opposite of what responsible adults in positions of leadership must do. We watched as you, the leaders, slaughtered the basic fundamentals of a fully functional government, only to sacrifice principles on the altar of selfish pride and obscene political theatre. Well, since I see that you missed this when you left your home states, you all represent ONE nation, indivisible—not your parties, divided to conquer.

At some point, you will answer to the people who live in this nation. I know that many of you say you understand us, but let me remind you of the real people who you all represent on Capital Hill:

My uncle, who lives in a personal care home because he cannot stay on his own, and my grandmother who has lost the ability to care for him;

My cousins and two dear friends, who have devoted their lives to defend our great nation from harm;

My two sisters and I, who without federal student aide, would not have gone to college (and finished with honors);

And my parents, who both work for our state government.

We don’t care for your reasons of not working together. We don’t want to hear the excuse you will give us in the next few hours for the crude word vomit you threw around in your respective chambers. We don’t want to hear the reasons you don’t agree with a bill, a law, or even parts of a law. What we want, we may not even get until you decide to finally do the job for which you were elected…I mean hired. We want you, the should-be responsible leaders, to get your respective acts together and leave the extreme sides of the aisle. What we actually get are Sith Lords that hide in the shadows of political buffoonery. You seem to think that sound-bite issues and hate-filled speeches equate to actual legislation. As Yoda would say, “Forgotten your purpose, you have.”

Many of us may remember that Article I, section 1 of the Constitution states that legislative power is vested in Congress. Vested. Trusted and secured. Hmm, do you think you’ve understood and remembered that in the last three years? Well, there is something else, my dear leaders of this nation, that you have forgotten; Generation Y is coming of Article I age. When we read that we are members chosen […] by the people, and elected by the people, we will take our respective offices with the humility that we are servants to this nation, not to portions of our political parties. In other words, we can now run against you. So, just as you tell us when you do not offer benefits for our part-time jobs that have full-time hours: Do the job or get replaced. It is your responsibility and we the people have grown tired of your long, non-working lunches.


We, the (younger) People