“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” – Fred Rogers

When I saw that quote earlier today on Facebook, I was immediately grateful for it as a parent. My hope is that I won’t need it in the near future, and that my little guy’s consciousness will stay protected from the reality of yesterday’s horrific event at the Boston Marathon for the time being. But it will surely be helpful someday, likely sooner than I’d like.

Like most Bostonians, my heart is heavy today. I’m haunted by sadness for all those affected and the darkness of it all, shaken by the what ifs and almosts, grateful for much, and weirdly enjoying a strange sacred clarity on what actually matters. I’m so proud of my city and the many who quickly chose upstanding responses to chaos. And, like most Bostonians, I’m making a concerted effort to resume normalcy today.

As you probably know by now, normalcy for me is having a bone to pick with certain gaps in medical education (yes, I realize that makes me kind of a freak).

One such bone has to do with goal-oriented looking. There’s a proverb in medical education, “you don’t find what you don’t look for.” Normalcy for me would be, I’m sorry to say, classic yes-but. Normalcy would be to take issue with that, and to point out that, yes, goal-oriented looking is really important (a known core principle of clinical observation, it’s the job of anyone in a position to be assessing something), but it can cause us to miss what we don’t think to search for (like gorillas, which, surprise!, are everywhere!).

It’s not enough for care providers simply to look for; to see the full picture, we’ve also got to look at, look in, and look with. Goal-oriented looking practices need to be supplemented with open-ended and collaborative looking practices. That’s normalcy for me.

This quote by Mister Rogers helps see what I take for granted in my normalcy: how very much power there is in looking for.

It reminds me how helpful it is to have a strategy when you are overwhelmed and scared. It reminds me that we can find what we are searching for– if that is an actual finding, or merely a foothold in the chaos. It reminds me the incredible strength of children’s perception, and how as adults we can tap it to help them (and us) make sense of the world. And it reminds me that the human spirit to help is everywhere. Even when we are not aware of it. And especially when we are.

Thanks, Mr. Rogers. Thanks, Mr. Rogers’ mom… that helped. Resuming normalcy, grateful for new light.


Upcoming events:

The Art Practicum: Clinical Skills for the Digital Age, at Millennial Medicine, Medical Futures Lab, Rice University, Houston TX, April 26, 2013.

Arts-Based Faculty Development: Catalyzing a learning community around art and teaching. Co-presenting with Gopal Yadavalli, MD, Boston University Medical School, at the Medical Humanities Consortium Annual Meeting, Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, Drew University, Madison NJ, May 22-23, 2013.

The Art Practicum: 1-day workshop for care providers, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, October 5, 2013. Express interest here.