Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet"

I've had a day filled with synchronicity. It feels like every day has an interesting nugget of meaning to be discerned if we are paying attention. But some days the puzzle pieces stand out more bodly than others!

Yesterday I was thinking a lot about the country's financial meltdown and proposed government bailout. I heard enough discussion (including an excellent panel on The Diane Rehm Show)to form the opinion that a bailout is probably necessary, but very dangerous in its own way. It's a recipe for corruption, and oversight is absolutely essential, but oversight was specifically excluded from Henry Paulson's proposal. With all the recent talk about pork-barrel politics, $700 billion makes the rest of the pork pie look like a crumb in comparison!

But this post isn't really about the bailout, it's about the feeling I had that my skill set just didn't apply to this crucial situation. Here's this huge crisis, and I don't know why I felt drawn to this one when there are so many others, but it really made me think that I wished I had some ability to be helpful. I don't think too many people do, as even Congress seems flabbergasted by the magnitude of the meltdown.

That train of thought reminded me of a quote by theologian Frederick Buechner. It's one of my favorite quotes but I had almost completely forgotten about it. With the help of Google I was able to call it up, his definition of vocation from his book, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC:

"There are different kinds of voices calling you to different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to do is work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world needs most to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet."

The financial markets have nothing to do with my deep gladness, no matter how deeply the country hungers for solutions is right now. I will have to trust that others will step up to fill that need.

I would have blogged about this even if that had been the end of the story, just to share the Buechner quote, but this morning I came across two separate stories that spoke to me about the career path I had left, neuroscience.

First a little background for those whole don't know that part of my story. I majored in Neuroscience in college and loved it. I worked in a research lab and got into graduate school at Stanford. I thought I had landed where I was "supposed" to be, but to make a long story short, I realized about two years in that the research path was ultimately not for me. It was sort of like the difference between enjoying playing tennis on the weekend, and committing to training for the Olympics. I learned that I was a generalist at heart, climbing a ladder that was ever more specialized. I stuck it out, got my Ph.D., and changed gears to teach science instead. Through a series of welcome twists and turns, that path eventually led me to the place I am today.

I rarely think of the research road not taken, but then today I saw the list of new Macarthur "Genius Grant" recipients, and a researcher named Sally Temple won one. She is doing research in the precise area I had studied. It's not every day I even hear about this specific research, much less associated with a Macarthur grant. I watched Dr. Temple's video talking about her work, and I felt a pang of admiration mixed with a little jealousy. Not because of the money, but I envied her passion. She clearly has that spark that means that she is doing exactly what she should be doing. And frankly, when I was on that very same path, I not only lacked that spark, but after a couple of years I felt my energy being sucked out of me on a daily basis. So it was a blessing that I found the courage to make a change.

The coolest thing about the $500,000 Macarthur Genius Grants is that you can't apply for one. The Macarthur Foundation runs a nomination process finds the people who are already doing amazing, groundbreaking work that might not get recognized through traditional channels. It's a high-powered Mojo detector!

This post could end there, but as I was driving this morning, I turned on NPR and heard my very own undergraduate mentor, Dr. Mark Bear, being interviewed on Morning Edition. It was surreal to hear his voice, especially when I had just been thinking about neuroscience. Mark is a basic scientist at heart, and he's followed his passion for figuring out how the brain wires itself together during development. Along the way, his research into how synapses work became connected to the Fragile X mutation, which is related to a human disorder, Fragile X syndrome, that causes mental retardation and autism.

Mark was able to pursue his scientific hunches about Fragile X through a grant given by FRAXA, a research foundation started in the 1990's by parents, Katie Clapp and her husband Michael Tranfaglia, as a way to help their son Andy who has Fragile X Syndrome. Now it appears that a beneficial drug treatment may come out of the Bear lab's research.

This has turned into a long post but I wanted to get the whole story down. It came together in so many ways for me, ultimately affirming that I am where I need to be. Economics is a path not taken for me, and neuroscience was one that I took as far as my passion would carry me. It made no sense to try to force myself into the next level when my heart, soul and mind were telling me No. I celebrate the successes of those who have succeeded, like Sally Temple and Mark Bear, and I am grateful that I have found my true passions, writing and teaching, and applying those to motherhood.

Parenthood opens our eyes to what is important in life, and that can help us find our passion. Look at how Katie Clapp and Michael Tranfaglia's lives have intersected with Mark Bear's. The family's response to their son's challenges created the catalyst that funded the research that could find a treatment to help Andy and thousands of other people.

We are all connected, and we all have vitally important contributions to make, in ways we may not even be aware of yet. But the surest way to find it is to keep following the essential path to the place where "your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet."

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Anonymous Ali said...

Just did a search for this same quote and hit your blog. THANKS!

11:53 AM  

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