What defines you? How do you define yourself? The questions appear similar at a glance, but they can be entirely different. This is something that has been on my mind for a few days now. Lately the more something stays on my mind, the more likely it is to end up on paper. Virtual paper at least. Back to the question(s) at hand. What defines you? Is it the things that you do? Is it your perceptions of yourself? Or is it something entirely different?
I find that being defined by the “what” isn’t always bad, but it does need to be kept in check. I believe actions speak louder than words. I know that the things I do will partially define me. However, I think the “what” often defines me more in the eyes of others than how I define myself. I’ve recognized this since early on in life. The context where I develop relationships with people affects how they see me. When I was younger this meant that I was either “the weird homeschooled kid”, or “the kid who hits homeruns” (my athletic career peaked at 12). In jr. high and high school I kept the weird homeschool part of me, but added other taglines. I was now also a “friend from church”, an “athlete”, and before long “aren’t you that guy in a band?”. See, in every context I made friends and connections that were special, but in each situation I wonder how I was perceived? I recognized that all these different aspects of my life contribute to who I am, but do any of them define me? As a whole person?
Unfortunately there have been times where I have let the “what” define me entirely. Last summer was a prime example. I let myself get caught up in being defined as a “scientist”. It was far too easy actually. At the start I saw it in a positive light. I was working long hours, but I told myself it was because I was motivated. That’s a good quality right? I got a taste of success and the number of hours I worked continued to grow. Still not necessarily a bad thing though… That is until the lab became my priority, my life, and what defined me. I don’t know when the transition occurred, but soon lab was my excuse and reason for everything. My excuse for not hanging out with friends? “I have to go to lab”. When I was in a bad mood? “Things just aren’t going well in lab right now”. Why I was tired, insensitive, and selfish? “I just have to focus on lab right now, it’ll end soon”.
It did end. I wish I could say by my own doing. A sudden realization that I was missing out on what counts, but it was actually something else. I got scooped. Basically what that means is that at the time we were preparing to publish my results and findings, another group published the exact same thing, but before I could. All of that time, all of the work, and know what I got out of it? A bunch of clear tubes in a freezer that I haven’t touched in months. I was crushed. You know why? Because I was being defined by my work. It was clear from my actions and my decisions who I was, I was “a scientist”. That’s not how I want to live. Even if I hadn’t been scooped, know what I would have gotten from all of that? My name on a piece of paper. A piece of paper that few would ever read and even fewer would care about. That’s would have been my reward for being defined as “a scientist”.
If being defined by the “what” is bad, then “defining yourself” must be the way to go, right? Again, I feel like this is a double edged sword (side note: isn’t a single edged sword just a big knife? I’ve never really understood the phrase). In a healthy light “defining yourself” may present an opportunity to outline your priorities and your values. Sadly, our human nature makes it so that even these well intended thoughts often end up being misdirected. At least mine does. I want to look at my composite parts and determine what is most important. I want to collect my thoughts and know that what makes me “Josh Linscott” is actually a combination of: the things that I do, what I believe, how I feel, and ultimately how that translates into actions. Often though I end up instead defining myself by my desires, my failures, and what I think will impress others.
That seems like a conflicting list doesn’t it? How do I define myself by my failures and what I think will impress others? Maybe that’s the root of the problem. When I “define myself” to others I don’t have to reveal all my thoughts, but regardless of how hard I try I can’t hide any thoughts from myself. On the inside I end up conflicted. A lot of this spills over from my recent experiences. For the last several months I’ve been defining myself as “the kid who’s donating his liver” and that’s also how I’ve been defined, but that chapter in my life is mostly over. So now what? This experience will forever be a part of me and part of who I am, but I don’t want it to define me.
I guess at the heart of it that this is really what this blog is about. Over the past year the “what” has defined me as “the guy who has a sick dad” or “the guy who is donating his liver” and for awhile that’s how I’ve defined myself, but that’s not who I am! It seems like who we are and how we see ourselves should be entirely obvious. Yet its not. Who we are is a complex sum of parts, actions, beliefs, and experiences that makes a singular identity. That identity is so complex that sometimes we miss out on its base elements. Have you even talked with a friend, told them a strength you admire and had them give you a questioning look of astonishment? One of the things you value most, they can’t even see. To them, this quality is so innate they don’t even see it. They don’t acknowledge it as a strength, but its defines them none the less.
At the end of all this babbling I’m less sure than ever that this is even coherent, but I’ll try and summarize. I don’t want to be defined by a what. Not a career, not an event, not a single line generalization like “the guy in the band”. I want to define myself, but I screw up even that. Instead what I’ll do is try to compile my parts, and my actions and ask “Do I want this to define Josh Linscott”. Honestly, right now there are some things that are part of me that I don’t want defining me, but luckily there others that I do want to define me. I realize that I’m not complete, but a work in progress. One of the things that defines me is I believe that God is out there and he has a plan for me. I believe that even though I’m not complete and at times I’m actually quite broken, that he accepts that and loves me the same.
Let me rephrase the question. How are you defined?
p.s. One of my parts is music. It allows me to create, think, and reflect. This is a song I recorded last week that helped lead to this blog. http://www.myspace.com/joshlinscott/music/songs/i-39-ll-take-your-broken-heart-88376272
My first real memories of post-surgery came on Tuesday. I woke up as I was being wheeled to Lahey 6 central room 01. By the time I was settled in my room I was somewhat coherent and at least aware of my surroundings. There to greet me, again, was my head nurse Denise. The first question she asked me was “What is your pain level?” In a lot of hospitals now they use a 1-10 point scale to help better manage patients pain. I had to think about it for a second “6? no, 7”. “Press the green button” she said. This was my introduction to a PCA (patient controlled anesthesia) pump, a magical green button that you can press whenever it illuminates in order to release medication to ease your pain.
The next questions were “How do you feel? Is this about what you expected?” I said I felt ok and that it was about what I expected, but in my head what I thought was “IS THIS WHAT I EXPECTED!? You said it would feel like I got hit by a truck, but it feels like I got hit by… oh ok, yea this is about right then.” In all honesty there is no way to describe the pain you feel those first few hours of consciousness. Everything is wrong, everything hurts, and to top it off suddenly you’re too weak to do things like sit yourself upright. Man, that was a weird feeling. When I was an athlete a lot of my life was about building core strength. So when you suddenly wake up one day and can’t move your own legs to the side of the bed, it’s an odd sensation. At the time it was miserable. Thinking back now though, it was certainly worth it given the trade off.
Tuesday was the first day I really remember visiting with family. Mom, Shara, Jake Groom, and Aunt Gloria were all there. I’m sure I wasn’t very entertaining. I think I fell asleep about every 30 or 40 minutes. I do remember at one point Shara discovered a program on my TV called “Puppy Party”. It was exactly what it sounds like. A quick push of the magic green button and all those puppies equals hours of entertainment. It was early evening when my nurse came in to give me meds and check vitals. Seemed pretty routine until she said “Alright, time to get up and go for a walk”. Ha, good one. A walk. Sorry I had surgery yesterday. As it turns out she wasn’t kidding. She helped move my legs to the side of the bed, then helped get me standing and soon I was half pushing half leaning on my IV drip as we made a half lap around the recovery floor.
A day after surgery and I was walking around. That’s amazing to me. The human body is just absolutely incredible in the things it can do. The best part of walking around was that I walked to dad’s room. Even though people told me he was doing ok, I really wasn’t settled until I saw him for myself. Seeing him made me feel much better. The first time that he walked to my room I felt I could finally relax and breathe. From there things went pretty quickly. Soon I’d figured out a way to sort of throw my weight and push off the bed to get up on my own. I was moving around a little better and starting to feel somewhat myself. Although apparently I wasn’t completely myself because a few weeks later Shara told me “Well, mom and I knew you felt pretty terrible because you weren’t even flirting with the nurses.” So apparently this is how my family measures my health, how much I flirt. Which personally I find preposterous and ludicrous, and it hurts me deeply. Thursday the docs came in and told me I’d be released on Friday. Again my first thought was that they must be joking. I wanted to say “Don’t do it, I feel terrible!” I was still only eating apple sauce and jello. I felt better, but I wasn’t ready to be out was I?
I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised. After all, they told me before surgery that they kick the donors out as soon as possible. They’ve found the longer you stay in the hospital the more you act like a patient. As it turns out they knew what they were talking about. Friday I was discharged. I was feeling pretty good. I walked myself out of the hospital. Partly because I was feeling up to the challenge and partly because I can be a little bit proud at times. I hate showing weakness. When the doors opened to the outside and I walked into the sun nothing could have made me go back to my hospital room. That fresh air was the best medicine I’d had all week.
All in all my hospital stay was rather unremarkable, but I’m thankful for that. When it comes to hospitals, boring and routine is more than alright by me. After being discharged they have patients stay in a nearby hotel to make sure everything is ok before you go home. The hotel is nice because it gives you some semblance of returning to normal life, while also providing comfort in knowing you’re just minutes away from medical professionals. That weekend (might have been more like the first week?) I was visited by several close friends. Dan came the first night and admired my scar while listening to my stories as I tried to fight sleep. Becca visited and brought gift baskets full of entertaining little games, inside jokes and books for both dad and I, just like the teacher she is. Lisa came with cookies and stayed to make dinner for me and my mom, who was exhausted by this point. Meghan and Leigh took me out to dinner and we ate, laughed, and reminisced about summers of old spent at IDEXX.
As is the reoccurring theme in this story, loved ones were there to take care of me when I didn’t deserve it and had nothing to give in return. I’ve forgotten a lot of details about what happened after surgery now that we’re almost 3 months out, but I’ll certainly not forget all the people who were at my side as I recovered. Even this past weekend a group of friends gave me a welcome back party (I’d been back for almost a month, but its the thought that counts) and card which made me a little more emotional than I expected. In my eyes my friends are sort of like the PCA I had in the hospital. Life comes and goes and my personal pain level fluctuates on a scale of 1-10. One day I might feel like a 1 and seemingly the next my heart hurts like its a 10. In those times though it always seems like one of my friends is there illuminated at my side saying “hey let’s get that down to a 7”. I don’t know your struggles, and I don’t know your pain level or if there is someone at your side trying to help. If not this is me saying “I’m illuminated for you, lets talk.”
These posts have become less and less frequent, but there is a reason why. I tend to write when my heart and mind are full. Its a release for me, a way to process, and its a lot cheaper than a therapist. Before dad and I had surgery in May I was writing every day. I wrote because it was all I could think about. Getting through the surgery was consuming my entirety, so of course I wrote about it frequently. The fact that the blogs come slower these days is a blessing. It means there are other things in my life that can occupy my thoughts from time to time. I’m getting to the point in this episode where the focus of every conversation I have isn’t about surgery or livers or how sorry everyone is for me and I like that.
Ironically after starting like that, dad is back in the hospital today. He has a fever from an infection, they’re going to drain and abscess on his intestine and check some other stuff as well. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little worried. I can’t wait to be done with these unplanned hospital visits. When I told a friend about this yesterday her response was “I’m so sorry”. My response? Don’t be. Sure there have been some tough times this past year, but I prefer to focus on the good times of in the last few months. Since the spring I’ve completed my comprehensive exams, I was confirmed as a donor for my dad, we had surgery and it went smoothly, we have both started to recover, I got spend time in Maine with family and friends, I was part of a wedding for a dear friend, I feel as good as if I’d never had surgery, and I had the opportunity to meet someone who put a spark back in my eye. That’s three lines of blessings that have happened since March. Things are looking up and life is good. God is good and I’m excited for the future.
However, I’m also scared. See, the past year of my life has been focused on getting to surgery and coming out the other side. Through the whole thing I put on my brave face, determined to show no fear and no sign of weakness. It worked, I fooled everyone… including myself. Although its true I was never afraid before the surgery, since then I’ve found that some of the emotions are catching up on me. In the last blog, writing about the morning of the surgery the emotions that came back to me were overwhelming. I cried, I shook my head in disbelief, and I thanked God for how far He’d brought us from that point. Now I’m finding some other emotions, thoughts, and feelings are catching up on me. Real life stuff. A lot of things got put on the back burners this last year. I figured they could be dealt with later. It seems like later has finally arrived.
As I was recovering I had a lot of time to think. As early as the hospital I couldn’t shake this one thought, this small voice in my head that kept asking me “Are you doing what you want to do? Is this what is going to make you happy?” It seems like the answers to these questions should be fairly clear. It is my life after all, why would I do anything apart from what I want and what makes me happy? I found that I couldn’t look in the mirror and answer these questions. I just wasn’t sure. And I was shaken by that fact. I come off as a
cocky confident person, like someone who has it all figured out and suddenly here I am completely unsure about the decisions I’ve made. If this were a fictional piece of writing, this is where there would be some breakthrough that I could tell you about, where it was revealed to me exactly what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Life doesn’t work like that. I have no breakthrough, instead I have questions.
I believe God has a plan and that his timing is perfect, but that doesn’t mean I can just walk through life with my eyes closed and everything will be ok. I believe that he can open the doors to the paths that I should walk, but I don’t believe he will push me through those doorways, it is up to me to take the first steps. Right now I worry if I’m looking hard enough at some of these doors. I’m worried I’m standing in a room with my eyes closed saying “I wish God would intervene in my life” and meanwhile there are open doors in the room with huge flashing arrows that say “this way dummy”. He’s opened doors and I’m too scared to go through them. Although I’m not sure if I’m happy now, I feel pretty safe and I think that keeps me from looks harder at the doors. A new career would be terrifying. What if I’m not accomplished enough to do what I want? What if I get rejected? A new relationship is even more terrifying, who is going to put up with me and my baggage? What if they break my heart or I break theirs? Nope, much safer to just sit in this room with my eyes closed… Through this blog I’ve talked about certain goals I have for becoming a better person. One major goal is to love on other people, especially those who are hurting. Another has been to do a better job of living this faith I claim to have. I think the third one has become to look for open doors. To ask God for guidance, to not to sit in a room with my eyes closed wondering where I’m supposed to go and to step through the doors when he opens them.
I don’t know if you’re still reading this blog (I don’t really know why you even started, but that is a topic for another day), but if you are I promise I will finish the story that led to “thesixtypercent”. In the meantime though, would you think with me about what it is you’re doing? Are you happy? If you’re not sure, lets look around and see what doors God has opened for us. Peek in and see where he might be leading us. If you are on that sure path, how’d you get there? How much do you still doubt? Your comments would be much appreciated.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13