To Live is Incredible
Vivir es increíble.
The words on the leather and metal wrapped around my wrist speak for themselves: To live is incredible. I happened upon this bracelet in a bustling street market in Madrid this past summer, and could not help but take it as a sign. Similar potent words by Oscar Wilde have served as beacons, comforting and guiding me through mistakes and triumphs alike: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
Standing in the drizzling rain in Birkenau, the concentration camp connected to Auschwitz, I felt my pulse throbbing. It wasn’t the same rawness as Treblinka, but the sheer massiveness of the complex, even in its deconstructed state kept me transfixed. Perhaps the most unassuming complex, just a concrete block built into a hillside was the most heart wrenching. Inside finger nail scratches and fake shower heads hold the darkest secret of the death camp: the crematorium. I held in my hands a damp, signed copy of Eva Kor’s Surviving the Angel of Death, recounting the war experience of one of the few remaining twins exposed to the treatments of the infamous Dr. Mengel. It was a moment that left me speechless in its rarity but also the familiarity with which I had heard the war recounted to me by my grandparents in Poland. Their words and those of Kor were echoes of each other. My grandmother Janina once explained to me, “Surviving was only part of the battle. The majority of struggle came with giving purpose to one’s existence, to justify one’s survival against the odds.”
Thus, how important it is to elaborate vivir es increíble (to live is incredible), not just sobrevivir es increíble (to survive is incredible). To live is incredible because it means actively giving purpose to one’s existence. Dr. Luanda Grazette once said, “Medicine is for those who cannot imagine doing anything else.” Perhaps that is why after I realized the complexity of being an astronaut-princess-doctor-president, I narrowed down the career goal: physician. And perhaps that is why, even as I sit and write this in a LOT Polish Airlines flight returning from a summer of gallivanting across Europe, I am excited to start the madness that is medical school and beyond. Because, unlike in other institutions, I don’t think this 4 year journey is just about surviving. I think it will be living- getting one step closer to the version of ourselves that will do the most good in this world. It means finally being able to belt out country music in public with social acceptance. It means getting to know people who could be lifelong family over a love for earl grey tea, flash cards and fried chicken. It means holding the hands of our first patients. It means becoming a Vanderbilt physician. And if that isn’t living, then I’m not sure what is.
Bracelet on the Birkenau train tracks, where passengers were unloaded and underwent selection