Emergent Calm

Emergent Calm


Leonard Zwelling

I moved from an early age. A lot.

Home movies of me right after I learned to walk show me running. I ran for 65 years. I ran a marathon and many shorter races. I loved running, but I can’t run any more.

I also chased things. Gold stars mainly.

Early on I was praised for displaying intelligence and quickly came to believe that such displays were rewarded with love so I was always on the alert to show off my intelligence. My father won bets with people that I could correctly identify cars. I read hubcaps. So did my son. Do does his.

This is just fine in a three or five year old but it wears thin after that. Nonetheless, school was the place where I excelled (as opposed to the athletic field or orchestra), and thus I ran after the achievements school offered. It worked out pretty well in high school, college, medical school, internal medicine training and, even later in life, business school. There were never enough gold stars to collect so I just went on trying to collect them until I basically ran out of gas.

I think the beginning of my releasing the gas pedal (hitting the brake?) was when I went to Washington, DC in 2008 at age 60. It’s hard to feel important there or find any meaningful positive feedback for anything you do, especially if you are neither an elected nor an appointed official. If there was ever a place where, “if you want a friend, get a dog,” applies, it’s Washington, DC. But I acquired something else in Washington I didn’t realize was missing from my life. Solitude.

Even though one of my many therapists had told me that I could be alone for great periods of time, it was not until I was living on my own in downtown Washington, that I was really on my own in my life. After all, I had married while still in school and had never dated or been left to my own social devices outside the context of a classroom, ever. There I was, 60 years old and living in a 450 square foot, one bedroom apartment, cooking for myself, doing my own laundry and doing the grocery shopping. I had no car and was totally dependent on the DC Metro system for transportation. I did not have the luxury of running full speed without looking. I had to slow down. I did.

By the time I returned to Houston a year later, I was a very different person having seen how the government works (or doesn’t) and having left the petty politics of an academic medical center behind. I re-entered, and did so smoothly both at Smithville and Houston, but I never really felt a part of MD Anderson again and four years later, I wasn’t.

My brief sojourn at Legacy, a federally-qualified health clinic, was a disaster as I could not embody a philosophy of less than adequate patient care that that organization with its emphasis on money demanded of me. By June of 2014, I was gone and left with nowhere to run.

The last seven years have seemed to be in slow motion for me. I am not running anywhere. I have nowhere to go.

This is all a prelude to a particularly humorous moment at a wedding in Brooklyn, New York on May 30. My niece was getting married in the Prospect Park Boathouse. It was supposed to be an outdoor wedding, but it was raining and 48 degrees and the ceremony was moved inside when the florist could not assure the bridal party’s safety under a wet chupah (Jewish bridal canopy).

So I sat. First I sat through the ceremony and then through the cocktail hour and dinner making small talk with the few people I knew and battling the band for control of outside doors that they wanted open and the guests wanted closed given the freezing rain and wind. Why the band won this dispute is beyond me. They said the open doors were in their contract. I didn’t believe it.

My brother-in-law leans over to me and says: “My son-in-law wants to know how you stay so calm.” My brother-in-law has two daughters from a previous marriage.

I laughed and said that at my age it’s not too hard to slow down and, as my late, great father-in-law Dr. Jerry Kleinerman might say, “let the meeting come to you.”

At that moment I had officially graduated. After a career of motion, I was still. I was still me, but at a much lesser speed. It is easier to focus at lower speed. It is easier to breath. It is easier to stay calm at a time when there is very little to be calm about. Like now.

Try it. Breath with me. In, out.

4 thoughts on “Emergent Calm”

  1. You have learned to live peacefully in the moment! What a blessing!
    Your reflection is spot-on for so many of us driven by a vision to change our professional world. A life that was constantly plowing ahead with ambition to be and do the best.
    You had a stellar career and deserve every moment, every breath of calm! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *