To “love humanity” is easy…it is difficult to love individuals.
As an Emergency Physician in training, I have tried to help each patient as best I can. There is a tension between the aspiration for compassion in the abstract and the practice of compassion in the particular. It is challenging to remain loving in daily life while existing in a world of physical trauma, violence, and emotional distress. This is one of the fundamental struggles of practicing medicine and part of the reason that I stepped away from my training temporarily.
During my leave, I returned to painting as a way to touch deeper emotional notes that words couldn’t capture. As I thought more about my own physical and emotional exhaustion as a medical provider, I saw it as a potent example of something that we all experience, the struggle of loving each other. It's Hard Loving You Closely is a series in conversation with my training as a physician, juxtaposing experiences of the ideal and the particular.
At a distance, large swaths of amorphous undulating hues and a warm earth-toned palate combine to create a pleasant, perhaps enticing, impression. As the viewer approaches, the abstracted texture comes into focus and is markedly less pleasant. Shapes and patterns hint at exposed muscle, bone, vasculature, and torn flesh. Warm tones from afar now seem more like blood or skin, the patterns rough and suggestive of suffering or even violence. The chaotic anatomical shapes relate to the imagery that I have encountered daily for several years, it is the visual language of the raw and unfiltered human experiences one faces in the hospital.
How do we resolve the conflict between an idealized state and the unpredictable often unpleasant details of daily life? Do we turn away? Perhaps we choose to numb ourselves. A few may even be able to hold both, the ideal and the particular, as a single and complex emotional note. All of these are processes physicians, consciously or not, use to negotiate their daily experiences.
Though given a distinctive medical bias by my profession, the themes touched on are broad. How do we love each other when the polished impression from afar gives way to the inevitable flaws and shortcomings of all individuals? How do we negotiate the difficult details innate in any attempt to help others? Do we run away physically and emotionally or find appreciation despite the unpleasant? It is a question of how we navigate compassion, idealism, struggle, and intimacy in our lives – something for which each individual finds their own answer.