The Difference of a "Yes"
"And, in an instant, I no longer felt out of place. It didn’t matter that I was not a doctor or that I will never publish in Nature."
On November 21, my husband and I were invited to attend a ceremony at the Harvard Faculty Club for our friend Lorenzo in celebration of his receipt of an endowed professorship at Harvard. I was moved by this invitation and kept thinking, Why us? Why me? I went shopping a couple days prior to the event because I didn’t have a long dress suitable for the occasion. The day of the ceremony, between teaching and taking care of our four children, I arrived at the event completely exhausted.
As we reached the top of the grand stairs of the Harvard Faculty Club, my husband and I found ourselves face-to-face with Cardinal Sean O’Malley. We started talking, and I told him how I felt a little bit out of place--I am not in the medical field, nor Harvard material--and the Cardinal just smiled at me, as if to say that he felt the same way. “This place is incredible,” I said. ”How is it possible that our friend received such an honorable title?” Again the Cardinal smiled back at me, and a friend of Lorenzo who was standing beside us answered: “Lorenzo is amazing, and I know that it is because he is in love with Jesus.”
The evening commenced with Lorenzo giving a speech about his scientific and human journey. He told how his medical school mentor Dr. Antonio Pesenti in Italy recognized his interest in medical research and recommended that he go to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to do research under Dr. Theodor Kolobow. Lorenzo said that he felt that Kolobow treated him like a son. Only a year later, Lorenzo was made responsible for the large animal lab, where he conducted studies focused on avoiding lung injury and testing novel methods to improve mechanical ventilation. Lorenzo went on to make a series of discoveries in his field. In 2003 he met Dr. Warren Zapol, who invited him to apply to the residency program at MGH (Massachusetts General Hospital) in Boston.
Lorenzo was clearly moved as he spoke and thanked Dr. Zapol for being his teacher, mentor, and, above all, a companion. Lorenzo went on to explain that he received extraordinary medical training at MGH. I was struck that Lorenzo mentioned so many people, one by one, by their first and last name--doctors, nurses, patients. Each person was dear to him. Lorenzo thanked his residency classmates, and remarked on how, during his residency and ICU fellowship, he had had the opportunity to become closer to human suffering.
As Lorenzo talked about his current work, I couldn’t help but look around the beautiful hall filled with decorations fit for a wedding reception and think, Thank You for bringing me here tonight. Who am I that I should be here and see You at work?
Following Lorenzo’s remarks, a former student of his told how Lorenzo had hired him in his lab and shared his passion for medicine and for life. He felt Lorenzo’s greatness was transparent--in his intelligence, attention to the person, and embrace of human suffering. Listening to this student, my heart was moved because I thought about the friends in my life who care for me, who share this passion for life with me, who are attentive to details and love life, just like Lorenzo does. And, in an instant, I no longer felt out of place. It didn’t matter that I was not a doctor or that I will never publish in Nature--what matters in my life is to say “Yes” like Lorenzo said “Yes” to what was given (which is very simple: Reality!).
Lorenzo went to the NIH and was engaged with his research and in the relationships with his professors. When he moved again, to MGH, he was in relationship with Dr. Zapol, as well as the nurses, fellow doctors, and patients. So, people and reality--this is all we need! And, of course, our heart, the need for truth that Lorenzo felt and found realized in his research!
I understood what Giussani once told a group of friends. They wondered “How can we be like you? We want to live like you live. How are you so different from us?”--to which Giussani replied, “The only difference between you and me is my ‘Yes.’”
I left the dinner filled with gladness because I can also say “Yes,” just like Lorenzo. In his remarks before the blessing at dinner, Cardinal O’Malley said that we were celebrating Thanksgiving a week early, and I knew this was true: Thank You God for being in my life and for loving me and changing my life and my friends’ lives too!
Monica, Boston, Massachusetts