Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin
cswallow

The world, being revealed

It's getting late, and I know I need to be up in five hours but I have to write tonight while the thoughts are vivid.

The drive to Charlotte today was especially beautiful. The edges of highway 85 bloomed with plush, confettied carpets of orange, pink and red wildflowers. It was a warm, clear day, and I felt a rush of happiness.

Today, the audiobook "Mountains Beyond Mountains," replaced my normal hip-hop mix. I hoped it would keep me more alert, since I knew my return trip would bring me home well after midnight. The book is about Dr. Paul Farmer, a man of a rare intensity, philosophy and vision who was educated as an undergraduate at Duke before going on to earn an MD and Anthropology PhD at Harvard.  While his life-long passion is to bring the people of Haiti to a better quality of life by providing basic medical care, Farmer eventually expands his influence to programs in Peru, Cuba and Russia, mainly working on TB and HIV/AIDS treatments. He stands out not only for his incredible intelligence, but his willingness to do what he calls, "unglamorous scutwork," which he believes has been the key to the projects he has worked on. For Farmer, "unglamorous scutwork" takes the shape of, for example, hiking some 32 hours round trip just to visit two families in the mountains. Or sleeping only four hours a night so that he can see patients whenever he is in Haiti. Why does he make a point of doing this? Because "the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world."

As I listened to the oeuvre of everything that Farmer has done in his life, I was struck especially by his disdain for other Americans who allow people to suffer.. not purposely but merely by not doing enough about it. The things that "normal" people are cowed by - the enormity of the task, the assumption that "I could never do that" - don't faze Farmer for an instant. In fact, he accepts them, and calls his work, "the long defeat," saying, "I don't care if we lose. I am going to try to do the right thing."

I hate for my journal entries to become repetitive, but strangely I do feel that every day I arrive at some new epiphany. Today I thought about how much of Farmer's effectiveness was driven by his inherent intelligence, and how much by the aspects of his personality that have somehow allowed him to feel a psychotic obligation to treat anybody who needs a doctor, by any means possible.  What factors shape the decisions you make today? How much is true obligation, and how much is imagined? How far can we push to understand ourselves differently, to create and then follow our own moral charter?

When I was first considering Fuqua, I thought about whether or not it really made sense for me to delay graduation by another year. The environment needs help now, I told myself, why would I wait for another year? In fact, most of my schooling has given me this sense that I'm preparing myself for the "real world," that the more I do now in this academic setting, the more effective I will be upon graduation.

I said something to a friend the other day about not being ready for prime time, to which he responded, "You're already in the prime time." At the time I wasn't sure how I wanted to interpret the statement. Today, with Farmer's story, I am seeing it as a statement about not needing to sit around gathering strength, like a squadron preparing for battle. Learning in the academic world is not, as Farmer and some of my classmates prove, necessarily separate from simultaneously pursuing your life's work. 

True, accounting case studies are not inherently impactful. I think the impact arises in what we choose to do with that knowledge every day.  Ophelia, who was Farmer's long-time girlfriend, talks in the book about a moment in which she was talking with Farmer and felt as if the world had just been revealed to her, and she said to herself in the best way possible, "Oh no, things will never be quite the same again." I do feel every conversation is something we can learn from - whether it's my statistics professor suddenly expounding upon the "completely beautiful" phenomenon of the normal distribution, or my dance coach talking about the mental shifts I need to make in order to contribute equal power to the dance partnership.

I realized today that I don't want to be the kind of person who claims to be inspired by something, and immediately afterward allows day to day life to take her away from putting the inspiration into action. Of course, I know we all internalize and materialize inspiration in different ways. But for me, the past year has been as much about realizing what I don't want, as what I want. When I applied to business school, I generally thought I was a self-aware, diligent, reflective. But everyday, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I actually know myself and what I am, or am not capable of. And I know I don't want to feel myself using the same excuses and falling to the same coping mechanisms as I always have.

I don't have a neat takeaway for today, except that you should all at least skim "Mountains Beyond Mountains" and think about what it means to be on this earth with one another.
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