Saturday, August 6, 2011

It All Begins . . .

I'm used to waiting in the wings . . . but not like this. There we stood in the wings of the Lydia Mendelssohn theatre at the University of Michigan. 169 of us each had our white coats neatly folded over our arms (apparently there is a technique to folding this coat quite right; after 312 attempts I had it down cold!) So yes, waiting to make an entrance is a ritual that I have gone through many times over in my acting life. But on that sunny, Ann Arbor afternoon, there was a big difference. I would enter not as a character but as myself, albeit in a new role . . . a doctor, in training. In less than an hour, I would officially become a first year medical student. I had waited 9 years for this and as I stood in the back of that theatre, I could not think of a more appropriate location than a theatre to capture this dramatic moment. The poignant juxtaposition of my two worlds of theatre and medicine for one extraordinary moment came together to make time stand still as I contemplated this next phase of my life . . . a few seconds later, we all crossed the stage as the cameras went off and we luxuriated in the smiles and warmth coming from a very proud audience. Anne (my wife) said that my smiling expression spoke of something deeper; she said I had that look of someone who has waited a long time for something that has finally come to pass. And she was right; as we went through the ceremony, it sank in that I was about to start the path to becoming a doctor after years of classes, labs, tests and exams all while working as a theatre professor and raising a family. As the Dean put on the White Coat, I could not help but be struck by the symbolism of this "costume." It is a curious irony that actors get to wear many costumes, but never in real life. Of the many things we were told that day, I was struck by one idea. That once we put that coat on, no one would ever look at us the same way, even as trainees. What a responsibility; the power of symbolism. Of course, what made this day exceptional was having my family there to witness the whole event (the boys can apparently cheer extremely loudly!), my mentor Awori, who flew in from his residency in Seattle just for the ceremony and newly located cousin, Maria and family who happen to live just forty minutes away. As we took pictures, Maria quietly referred to my father (who was a surgeon and died almost 25 years ago, while I was still a child) and said the most meaningful words of the day, "He would be proud."

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