We Do What We Are

Alex Cross: You do what you are Jezzie.

Jezzie Flannigan: You mean you are what you do.

Alex Cross: No, I mean, you do what you are. You’re born with a gift. If not that, then you get good at something along the way. And what you’re good at, you don’t take for granted. You don’t betray it.

Jezzie Flannigan: What if you do, betray your gift?

Alex Cross: Then you betray yourself. That’s a sad thing. (c) Along Came A Spider (2001)

ME: “I’m going to med school, Mom. I want to be a surgeon. I want to help save people’s lives. I want to make a difference!”

MOM: “Before, or after, you’re finished playing school with your dolls and stuffed animals?”

ME: “After. Shhhh, they’re taking a test.”

Nine years later, I graduated from high school at 17 and embarked on my journey to become a doctor. I spent the next four years studying Chemistry and preparing for the MCAT at Xavier University of LA. On the day of the exam, I was overcome with a sense of uneasiness and discomfort. I chalked it up to test anxiety, so I began settling into my seat, and I took out my test utensils.

The test proctor started going over the rules for the test, thoroughly explaining how the test sections would be administered and where one could find the restrooms and water fountains. Once the proctor finished issuing the basic what to do, when to do, and how to directions, he asked the usual rhetorical question: “Are there any questions?” As expected, everyone shook their heads, in unison, indicating no. Everyone, except me. For the first time in my life, I truly began to ponder the question with regards to my life.

Are there any questions? Suddenly the room became deafeningly silent. I felt my heart begin to race. Here comes that test anxiety again. Are there any questions? I hear myself scream: YES! Why am I here? Do I really want to take the MCAT? What will I do if I don’t go to med school? Do I have a plan B? I look around and noticed no one was paying me any attention, so that meant I wasn’t talking out loud. Good. Now, I’m sure he was referring to the rigid nature of the directions he had just spent the last 10 minutes reading and not the quintessential question I obviously heard. But who asks such a loaded question to individuals who are already stressed about this exam and not expect at least one of us to have a “moment”? Needless to say, I quickly got up out of my seat, gathered my belongings, left the lecture hall, and exhaled a sigh of relief.

Several months later, college graduation came and the internship I had at USDA ended. I moved back home to GA. Still no plan B. After a round of job applications and interviews with different scientific labs, I couldn’t shake the “need” to make a difference in people’s lives. My old school system had an alternative certification program for non-education majors. Science majors make better science teachers, right?

I got hired at my second interview! I was going to be a mid September, mid-week, replacement teaching 8th grade Honors and CP (college prep) Physical Science. Life just got real. Paperwork. ID photo. Classroom keys. Meet department chair. Shop for professional clothes. Nervous energy and pure excitement were oozing out of my pores. I was going to be a teacher! I wonder if the students will look like my stuffed animals?

Up bright and early, still nervous and excited about my new adventure, I hurriedly got ready for my first day. Pep talk. You’ve got this! You helped tutor kids in the 5th grade. You were a TA, of sorts, in college. You taught the engineering major dude Organic Chemistry as your way of studying for your exams. You’ve BEEN doing this! Then I heard: “Teachers help save lives too. Teachers make a difference. Don’t forget, all your “pupils” got straight A’s. I saw the tests you gave. Snoopy struggled a little but he eventually got himself together!” It was my mother. She sensed my nervous energy, plus she overheard my pep talk, and she did what she always does, she encouraged me and reminded me of my dream: save lives, make a difference. Thanks Mom!

The morning bell rang and the bright young minds I’m about to influence come bustling though the door. So young. So energetic. So full of life. They belong to me and I belong to them. Wow, I am their teacher. This ebb and flow of students and bells continued for 6 more hours, with an hour for planning and about 45 minutes for lunch squeezed in between. Today was rather overwhelming but undeniably fulfilling. How will I ever remember all of those names? As I gathered my things, turned off the lights, and closed the door to my room, I thought to myself: Snoopy would be proud!