I held your heart a time ago
On this holy metal tomb.
My heart beat faster, perhaps to make up
For the absence there was of you.
What circumstance, what paradox
has found us here the same?
This relationship — so intimate
Yet I never know your name.
Now I for one stand anxious under
Pale blue thrifted scrubs
Wondering too how death chose you
As I gaze from above.
You wrote the past and your future is passed
To many unsteady hands.
Now this rite of passage brings us a lasting
Gift to understand.
But I see now what I could not then:
That you live life as a name.
And in death you rise, begetting life
To every living thing.
You are every patient I have yet to meet.
You are written in my mind.
You are who we turn to when we learn
The beauty of design.
You are youthful smiles
And late night cries
Found in each final breath.
For we may never know
What means a life
Until leaning over death.
During my pre-medical years, I became deeply interested in understanding humanity through the perspective of the homeless community. It was during this experience of learning the stories and the struggles of homeless patients that I began to write — not for mere enjoyment, but because I felt as though there existed a chasm between perception and reality. I listened to elderly men, who spent 50 years in prison, make sense of a lack of belonging on the outside. I cried with one gentleman who lost his job, family, and freedom in a month’s time. Over this time, I learned a simple gift one can give to another is the recognition of their name. In life we become defined by our name, but far too often society imposes labels upon us that overshadow who we know ourselves to be. From that time on, I made a vow to lead with the person’s name and uplift them through it, so that they may be defined principally by their intrinsic human worth.
As I entered the cadaver lab during my first year of medical school, I encountered a relationship unlike any before. I stood over a peacefully deceased woman and had no name to call her by. Hours upon hours I would explore and learn from this person, coming to know her in a deeper way than any other, but remained uncertain as to how to properly process her humanity. This poem is an homage to life and death. To the woman who taught me more than I could have imagined without even speaking a word. In writing this piece, I sought to express a singular message: during our life on earth, we come to be defined by our name — almost as though we are held to it. But after we die, we exist not as our name, but in and through every person we have touched.