What’s happening right now in America is unconscionable. Muslim ban, border wall, avowed white nationalist on the US security council, DAPL, Keystone, and assault on reproductive rights all in the the first week. This isn’t just going to be another political rant, there are enough out there already. That being said, as staying silent is tacit approval, I would consider myself remiss if I didn’t say off the bat that I will continue to stand with those who are marginalized in our current (and past) culture of racist sexist xenophobic fascism. Just today I connected with two men who I consider brothers, men from predominantly Muslim countries who are not only two of the kindest people I know, but who have graduate degrees in engineering and economics. These brilliant, kind, and fully americanized professionals are no longer sure that they feel like they can make this country their home. I’m far from perfect and am constantly face to face with my own humanity and shortcomings. However, I am also sick and tired of hearing well-intentioned liberals discuss the need to further explore the flaws of the leftist ideology and hear out rural America to better understand this conservative/reactionary/impotent white male perspective. I don’t buy it. We’ve been living that perspective for the past two thousand years and it’s time we stood up and fought to broaden our fucking horizons.
Selfishly living in Ely allows me to escape our current political horror show whenever I want to and think about smaller problems. First on my list is that I have yet to see a wolf. I’ve wanted to see wolves since I moved up here, but the closest I’ve come is a ragged coyote that looked like it had mange. For the first few months I was here, almost every time I closed my eyes wolves would come to me in my dreams. They were always powerful and wild, looking me in the eyes at a distance just too far to smell them. There hasn’t been a fatal wolf attack in the wilds of the lower forty eight since 1893, and I tried to keep that in mind when I was putting on my skis the other week. The sun had long since gone down and I was alone in the pitch black parking area in front of the Hidden Valley ski trails. My long day working with Schwinghamer, the on-call doctor, had given me a lot to think about. Dr. Schwinghamer is built more like an offensive lineman than an academic. He thunders in and out of clinic rooms too quickly for me to catch him but that’s a small price to pay for what I’m learning. In addition to the doctoring, he’s showed me power of putting your hands on patients, of being unafraid to say you don’t know, and letting down your guard to show your patients that you care for them.
As I kicked off into the trails, I thought about the second patient of the day. He was a guy in his early 20s with a left below the knee amputation from a job site accident. I looked down to hide my emotion in the clinic when he started talking about his service dog as his “little lover.”He had no bitterness, no callousness, and no anger. He was just trying to do the best he could with the cards he’d been dealt and wasn’t ashamed to tell us that it was hard. It was all I could do to keep myself from giving him a hug when we finished talking. The next patient was a woman in her early 30s who had an infection s/p mastectomy for breast cancer. She had three young children, one of whom is completely dependent. When she told me about her children, I remembered that I’d met her husband a few months earlier when he brought in their daughter due to an episode of her recurrent aspiration pneumonia. I will never forget that ER visit. The love and care emanating from that man towards his daughter was palpable. We were worried that we couldn’t give her appropriate care in Ely, but he told us that if we would just let him care for his daughter at the hospital instead of sending her down to Duluth, he would take care of everything on his own. I was telling this story to his wife and before I knew it I had another lump in my throat and she needed my box of tissues. Medicine so often seems to rob people of all that is good, but almost daily it can reveal these brilliant moments of pure love.
So I had a lot to think about as I stepped out of my car into the dark night the other week. My skis were sticking to the wet snow, and the air was warm and murky with patches of fog that were so dense you could only see three or four feet in front of you. My headlamp did little more than create a dim outline of the trail in front of me. I streaked down hills virtually blind, more than a few times veering off the trail into the pines. For the first time since coming to Ely, the woods unnerved me. Something about the fog and the dark made it feel like every glint I saw in the trees were eyes staring back at me. I finished up my workout and was going to take the outer loop for a cool down lap mostly because my instincts told me not to take the trail going into the heart of the forest. Fighting my craven gut I plunged back into the trees. Then I was going to take the meandering loop back to the chalet in order to avoid “The Screamer” in the now total darkness . The next thing I knew I had pushed off into the darkness. A moment later I felt my skis leave the ground for a few glorious and terrifying seconds before reconnecting with and skidding across the icy hill. I’ve night-skied since and have yet to feel again that same sense of uneasiness that I did the other week. It might have just been the fog, but I’d like to think that as I skied through the woods I was flanked by silent canines running beside me.
Last weekend I joined the Ely Women’s March before heading out to explore the North Arm ski trails by Camp DuNord. There were only about 40-50 of us out there, maybe 4-5 depending on White House estimates, but it felt good to be involved in something as our maniac in chief took office. Plus I scored a dinner invite from an incredible couple in their 80s. Reflecting on the past few weeks though I realized that Trump and his cronies might hold office today, but there’s so much that they’ll never have. Fame doesn’t matter, if humans survive another 10,000 years no one will remember our names no matter how famous we are. Wealth doesn’t matter because past a certain point (~70,000/year) it does nothing to improve our life. Power doesn’t matter for the same reasons that fame and wealth don’t matter. At the end of the day, all that matters are the individual moments where we are good to people. Being kind, loving someone, working for justice and equality, etc are infinitely priceless moments because unlike fame and power, goodness stands on its own. Thousands of years after the dust from our bones settles on the ocean floor of what was once the coast of Florida, those moments of kindness and love will still have happened. Those moments will be all that mattered.
I was thinking about this in light of our current president and the lengths for which he is willing to go in order to feel important. Unfortunately I think that his mind is too twisted to ever understand that none of the wealth, fame, or power he has matters. He is a little man and he will live the rest of his miserable life a little man no matter how powerful he becomes. What I do hope however is that the republican politicians in this country can wake up and realize that power isn’t worth the almost unpayable moral debt they have incurred. As many others have mentioned, one of the only silver linings in this abomination has been watching so many people in our country turn out for one another, showing us that maybe we do still have the potential to be the greatest country on earth. I’m proud watching my countrywomen and men march on cities and airports. I’m proud to be a part of a family where my mom was just hired to be the executive director of Mediation Services for Anoka County and my brother was just hired to be a 10th grade English teacher at Cottageview High School. They turn out every single day and I look up to both of them as examples of how to live and work with purpose.