The fall sunlight calls my eye to notice little things: the veins on a yellowing maple leaf. The askew feather on a chicken’s wing. The faintest breeze tricking the pond into patterned sin waves around a lone white duck.
What do we owe this world but our ability to parse and observe, to interpret, to be filled enough by moments of abject beauty to return to the ugliness and try to make it glow? Why should the sun slant just so, if not to reassure a wearied mind that there is loveliness to be found, that it creeps up unexpectedly, that it comes back eventually?
Some days it seems that all I see are the things I must fix. The counter is not quite clear of dishes. My unfinished work notes are pocked with asterisks. My laundry basket is overflowing. One of my progeny is trying to leave the house with food on his face. Stuff like that.
It can take conscious effort to step back and see the granite counter, with its flecks of quartz, beneath the mess. Or to notice that I have kept a child alive for over 14 years, and he’s a darn good kid and a handsome one. (I’ll own my bias; we all must.)
Sometimes two or three minutes pass after I notice that I am momentarily content, and I have to backtrack to the “why.” There’s always something: fall colors setting a tree aflame, perhaps, or the plump (healthy) fullness of an infant’s cheeks. Maybe it’s just someone’s earrings or the earnestness of a smile.
As a pediatrician, I never have far to look: I love the swoop of a toddler’s cheeks, the goofy gait of early walkers, and the haughty smirks of teenagers. I can swoon over how a child mimics me with my stethoscope. Plump, dimpled fingers are a joy to behold.
The artist’s eye and the physician’s eye are not so different, it seems to me. We can tell at a glance the difference between “sick” or “not sick.” Our gaze snags on the wrong kind of rash, the limb angle that suggests fracture, the breathing pattern that heralds distress. Each day is like this, a mixture of smooth and catch, appreciation when all is right, and intervention when something is amiss.
Claire Unis is a pediatrician and author of Balance, Pedal, Breathe: A Journey Through Medical School.
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