The Daily Commute Can be a Real Bitch
It is rare that I am smack dab in the middle of a situation that is “real life emergency” and even rarer that I get such a great story that actually had in impact on me and my outlook.
Late November, 2016, I was taking the train into Philadelphia from my little hometown of Malvern. It was a cold and miserable day, freezing rain and a grey as gunmetal. The train usually is not too crowded on the 6:57 a.m. ride in. Malvern is the first stop, so I get a nice window seat about 6 rows from the back exit doors. Three more stop in, and the train is getting packed. By the fourth stop it becomes standing room in the aisles only. I suspect everyone who commuted to work via car, didn’t want to risk it in the freezing conditions they woke to that morning and figured the train was the best option.
Everyone had the same idea apparently!
The commute into Philly is normally 47 +/- minutes and quite comfortable. This day, it would take us around 1 hour and 20 minutes, with Emergency Medical Technicians awaiting us at 30th Street Station.
I am reading a book by a good friend of mine call Masalai (Ryan Case…highly recommend getting a copy), the aisle is packed to capacity; if you have every seen videos of the subways in Japan and how they have to physically stuff them into the cars to get the doors to close, that would be how packed it was. Suddenly, I hear a few gasps behind me and I turn to see an indentation in the crowd just over my left shoulder. I gleaned from the panic laden voices surrounding the gap that everyone has now turned to gaze at, that a woman had passed out and was lying in between the seats.
Paging Hawkeye or BJ Honeycut
Seconds later the crowd starts calling for help…however, the first volley of cry is “MEDIC!!!! Is there a Medic on the train?”. Not to make light of the situation, which was unfolding like a dream sequence to me as I had roughly 2 hours of sleep from a long night of painting, but it smacked of an episode of M*A*S*H*. For those of you who remember the iconic television show, seems there was always someone calling for a MEDIC! I digress.
Some other start shouting for a nurse or doctor (much more in line with my thinking)…some have asked why I didn’t jump right in as I work for a hospital…but to recap, dream like sleep deprived state, and I am not a trained clinician, I just teach them. Luckily, a few nurses make their way, painfully, to the back of the car, climbing over the passengers packing the aisle. They get to work on her vitals, elevate her head, check for bleeding or any signs of seizure…but at this point, she is still unresponsive.
Not a few long minutes later, a very tall, lanky gentleman, in his mid to late fifties, ambles his way back, just like our intrepid nurses. He get as far back as my row of seats and is blocked for a second. One of the identified nurses looks up at this man and asks “are you a doctor?”
This question, little did I know, would provide a catalyst in my life, and solidify some nebulous identity issues I had been dealing with.
Well…Are You a Doctor?
The man, when asked this simple question, looked almost puzzled, like a paused VCR with the horizontal lines cascading up and down his existence. After what seemed like an eternity, and with the hot white focus of every passenger surrounding him, he finally responds…”I’m a gynecologist”. In my head I’m yelling “You are a doctor you idiot…you went to medical school. Just because you specialize in vaginal health and well-being doesn’t exclude you from the doctor club….get the hell in there!”
Fortunately, I didn’t need to spout this diatribe, as the nurse starting briefing him immediately on her condition and he jumped right in.
This lack of discernable identity on the part of this doc is what impacted me that day and gave me that kick in the pants for me to “know thyself”! We get so caught up in the minutia and toil we go through every day that we start defining ourselves in very specific ways, that generally apply to only a small percentage of what we do. Our Gynecologist has given the impression that he is not sure he is a doctor because he is not chief of surgery at a major hospital, or for whatever reason…he is still a doctor. He has put in the time, gained expertise, helped countless women I am sure, and has the license to prove and validate it.
End Scene on Train. Applause.
Just to let you know, the woman was hypoglycemic and had run out of the house late to catch the train without eating a bite of food (bad idea for someone with a blood/sugar disorder). Having to stand, and being packed in, proved to be too much for her and her body shut down. The EMTs at Philly’s 30th street station pushed through to get her out as we all exited in the opposite direction on the train. She was doing fine by the time I saw her on the gurney on the platform. So, happy ending.
“You Sell Junk Bonds, You’re a Junk Man”
So why did this impact me? My career as an artist has spanned more than 30 years now. There have been times I lived solely off my work, and most other times I had to work either full-time or part-time jobs to support myself (silkscreen printer, product information specialist at QVC, gallery manager and framer, actuarial, financial systems instructor, e-learning developer, consultant, cleaning service, WAWA clerk, and so on) . After a long hiatus from my early to late thirties, I started painting again in earnest. At this point, I had my own learning consulting company and was doing quite well. New family, 2 kids, then Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia calls me us and I give up my firm to go work for them as the Principal Learning and Performance Consultant. Life is good. But now I am embedded in this career that provides, and is good money, and has some prestige and I love the work. However, I start painting more and more, and getting back my chops (no pun intended), and things start moving rapidly…I start a new series, start selling work online, have some piece selected for a museum…and all this from painting every night from 9:30pm – 2-3am, then to work at CHOP at 8am.
I knew I was going to be an artist from the time I actually knew I wanted to be something 2-4yrs old. Other than baseball, it was my passion. That has driven me all my life, even when I wasn’t painting or creating art, I considered myself first and foremost, an artist.
Who Am I? No…Really, Who Am I?
Before this train incident, when asked what I did for a living, I would always reply “I work for CHOP, and I am also an artist.” The subtlety of language would imply to anyone that I responded to, that I was a business professional, and dabbled in art too. This reduction to an afterthought, or something that your great-aunt would pick up on weekends, was counter to all the work and progress I had seen in my work during this resurgence. Until our gynecologist questioned his identity, right in front of me, I didn’t realize I too need to make a clear distinction…are you, or are you not an artist.
Pleased to Meet You!
Hi, I’m Law Blank. I’m an artist. My hobbies are working for CHOP and long walks on the beach.
Inspirational and Introspective Conclusion
It might seem trivial to have these philosophical epiphanies, even when pondered solely by oneself, but I think we should all be thoughtful about our claim on the world. What we want to be remembered as, whether history records it properly or not, you are the only one who can make the determination. Don’t concede that right to anyone else…own it. Be who you are supposed to be, and identify yourself to the world. Don’t worry about the job you have, the car you drive, the phone you choose, which wireless carrier you have…any of that superficial nonsense. You validate your definition, YOU ARE IT! Never forget that.
Now go out and practice calling yourself ONLY that which you are. If they get it, they do, if not, don’t give a shit.
One day, my beloved CHOP will no longer be the benefactor of my work, and will be an amazing memory for me as I tell stories in my studio of the time I worked for them, became an Artist again, and the fateful day a gynecologist changed my life.
Don’t think it…Be it!