How this physician lives his life in the margins

Do you ever have that “aha!” moment? That moment when a revelation hits you with such a level of intensity that your physical being is jolted. Attention is obtained as if a Louisville slugger or defibrillator pad made contact at an opportune moment. That moment of revelation when a crimson string interwoven through the fabric of your life makes a connection, transcending childhood, college, young adulthood, professional and personal relationships. All of a sudden, memories flood in at the speed of light — coalescing into a head of revelation. I had one of those moments.

Emergency medicine is an intense, full-contact profession. We live in the trenches of life and death while wading the waters of government regulations, insurance carriers and best practices. Full engagement is essential often making it difficult to disengage when we leave the bay doors. My personal haven or disengagement comes in the way of an elevated heart rate, ear buds and a sweat laden endeavor. This is my time to decompress, reflect and refuel. Whether I’m lifting weights, pounding the pavement on a midnight run or strapped in the saddle of my road bike, it makes no difference. This is where I refuel, clear my head and return to baseline. During these pilgrimages I listen to the sounds of Sinatra, interlaced with a little Lecrae or Queen, finishing up with a TED talk or podcast. It’s my mosaic, duplicated daily with intrinsic variation.

I was recently riding my bike on an East Texas county road. The wind was brisk on my face as I felt the vibrations of the road and pounding of my heart. Sweat was dripping from my brow as I ascended a steep hill, looking forward to the restful plateau in sight. My glutes ached as lactic acid built up and filled with anaerobic metabolism. It was here, while listening to a podcast by Mark Batterson that I was hit with that “aha moment,” literally stopping my bike in the tracks. I stood there, sweat drenched as the words resonated as my crimson string, connecting the dots in my fabric. He said, “Live your life in the margins.”

“Live your life in the margins.” What does this mean? What did it mean to me?

Personally speaking, it meant I couldn’t live my life focused always on the big events, the main story or dialogue, but rather be intentional with the journey. It’s those small, seemingly meaningless interactions that often resonate the loudest and can have the biggest effect on others. In my personal life, it’s the morning drives while taking my children to school or the time spent in the checkout line at the grocery store. These moments or margins are often hidden in the storyline of evening meals, work deadlines or school concert events. It’s the time of preparation, travel or brief, unplanned interaction that is neglected as an afterthought. In the hospital or ER, it’s the brief passing in the hallway or momentary interaction with a family member. It’s the conversation in passing with a consultant or staff member while dealing with a complex cardiac event or surgical procedure. I’m not undermining the complex or obvious storyline of our daily personal or professional interaction but rather amplifying the power of being intentional with our margins.

As in Hesse’s Journey to The East, I understood that sometimes, the revelation lies in the journey and not necessary the destination. Don’t underestimate the power of a kind word or warm cup of coffee in the margins as your daily story unfolds. The reach of the crimson string in the fabric of the lives of others has a much farther reach than you may realize.

Jeffrey McWilliams is an emergency physician who blogs at Advocates Of Excellence.

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