President’s Letter

ACPAACPA News, President's Letter

On Falling Leaves and Teacups

Richard E. Kirschner, MDThe fall season has arrived and with it the cherished traditions of sending children back to school, trick-or-treating, and gathering with family and friends over large helpings of turkey and pumpkin pie. For so many of us, there seems to be something almost magical about the season. As Nature transforms herself all around us, we are filled with an inexplicable sense of warmth and of inner peace. There is something profound about the symbolism of the season that seems to resonate deep within all of us.

The autumnal equinox marks the beginning of fall. It is a day when the sun and the moon share equal tenure in the sky. Thus, the fall season serves to remind of life’s curious balance between darkness and light . . . between good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, joy and pain. As healthcare providers, we properly and perhaps inevitably tend to focus on the world of light. We serve to bring a spirit of optimism and well-being to our professions and to our teams, as well as to our patients and their families. But to neglect or deny the existence of darkness would not only be naïve, but would also serve to cheat us out of the deep understanding and reverence that can only develop within us through perception of the remarkable contrast. Without the night, we could never appreciate the light of day. And it is always in the very darkest of skies that the stars seem to shine the brightest. Stigma exists. Surgery hurts. And there is always so much that we still simply do not know. But from adversity and challenge arise perseverance, resilience and strength; from uncertainty and ambiguity arise curiosity and discovery; and from suffering arises triumph. We are well-served to remember that it is life’s inherent darkness that allows so many of our wonderful patients, families, friends and colleagues to illuminate our world so brilliantly.

As the autumn winds sweep the leaves from the trees, we are reminded of the importance of simply letting go. We see our lives mirrored in the cycles of Nature as the wind-blown foliage begs us to relinquish the little things that have assembled to become a burden in our lives and our careers. As we gather the leaves that have fallen in our own small corner of the world, it seems curious that these seemingly tiny objects together constitute a rather formidable pile of unnecessary things. And just as we know that the branches of the bare trees remain intact and destined to bloom again, so too are we made aware of the simple things that make our lives and our careers so valuable. We should understand, too, that letting go is also the most basic characteristic of human generosity. As the fall harvest reminds us of abundance, so too does this season remind us that the best way to gather love and abundance for oneself is to simply give it away. Autumn, then, is the perhaps the ideal time to give generously to others of our time, our talents, and our love.

Finally, fall reminds us of the impermanence of everything. The colorful blossoms of spring and the full verdant regalia of summer were welcome symbols of life and renewal. Now, the leaves are falling and the branches will soon be bare, a reminder of the fleeting nature of all things. One look out the window at happy children and playful pups frolicking in piles of fallen leaves, however, teaches us that the ephemeral nature of things is not a cause for sadness or despair but rather a reason to celebrate this life. True, each fall the leaves on the trees wither away and fall to the ground. But through this process, Nature gives us the most beautiful, often breathtaking show of colors. And through this same inexorable process of change, the roots of each tree grow deeper and its boughs grow higher.

So too is it for ourselves, our teams, and our world.

“I was once told that certain spiritual masters in Tibet used to set
their teacups upside down before they went to bed each night as a
reminder that all life was impermanent. And then, when they awoke each
morning, they turned their teacups right side up again with the happy
thought, ‘I’m still here!’ This simple gesture was a wonderful reminder to celebrate
every moment of the day.

– Susan Jeffers, Embracing Uncertainty