A Different Kind of "B-word"
Sometimes when I sit down to write a column, I have so much to say that the words just flow onto the page as smooth as butter. More often, I stare at a blank document for an hour, slowly work my way through an entire can of sour cream and onion Pringles, and proceed to stare at the page for another hour while contemplating whether or not I need to declare a state of emergency and pull out the Cheetos.
But this time I have everything to say and just no way to say it. Last weekend I was beyond blessed to be able to visit and tour St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. And when I say “blessed” I mean it — I don’t throw the “b-word” around lightly.
I knew that it would be an emotionally draining weekend, so I started thinking about my column well in advance, for once attempting not to procrastinate. I threw around ideas about how to avoid the flu epidemic, stay off the treadmill and still get fit, etc. Not only are those absolutely awful ideas — especially since I was unable to avoid the flu myself — but they didn’t feel at all right, so I resigned myself to cranking out a column no matter how drained I was when I returned from Tennessee. But once I got to Memphis, I knew I had to write about St. Jude, even if pulling out the words killed me.
Where to even begin…
The statistics themselves are impressive. No child ever has to pay — for anything — despite the $1.8 million it costs each day to run the place. St. Jude brought the survival rate for the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, from 4 percent to 94 percent. They also make all medication in-house on one of their six football-field-sized research floors to best suit each individual patient’s needs.
Still, the best part of St. Jude is not the numbers, but the people. I met a hospital chef who bought live goats and brought in a team of Indian cuisine specialists so he could make one of his patient’s favorite meals. I met physical therapists who chase their patients around the hospital, setting up spies to make sure they’re not overusing their wheelchairs and ensure they are getting stronger for their surgeries. And, of course, I met fighters and survivors.
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand. This is not a “how to” article in any traditional sense. I don’t think the secret to happiness lies in visiting St. Jude. There’s a more important message here.
I’m the first to admit that college is an easy place to get lost. No one wants to say it because we’re all supposed to be having the most fabulous, carefree time of our lives, but it’s true. It is easy to lose your sense of purpose or fulfillment, your grip on the outside world. For as happy as I am here, I get lost all the time.
There is no one answer for a “how to find yourself” column. I simply wanted to add my little piece of commentary to the puzzle.
After this weekend, I think there is no better way to find some part of yourself than to give part of yourself up. Get out there and give up one hour of your week to a philanthropic organization that makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. Give some of your time to get something back — not another line to add to your resume, but something intangible and meaningful.
After the stressful tornado of estrogen that is sorority rush, my weekend jaunt put me back in touch with what’s important in my life. I won’t always have this perspective so fresh in my mind, but I am better and more in touch with myself because of it. Choose whatever speaks to you and run with it. You never know where it will take you — to Memphis or, better yet, right back to yourself.
Anne-Marie’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.