You, Me, and Everyone Else
I don’t know you, yet I believe we are connected.
As the year 2020 unfolds, our intertwined roots are evermore exposed. As an oncologist, a public health worker, a scholar, a parent, a spouse, and an amateur philosopher, I find our interconnectedness both utterly daunting and absolutely inspiring.
I study and treat extremely rare, potentially lethal cancers that originate in the eye, serving patients who travel from near and far to my San Francisco practice. When COVID struck, their care was disrupted. Some patients stopped traveling due to safety concerns; others postponed treatment out of worry that a visit to a medical facility would put them in danger. While understandable, these delays in appropriate care had real consequences—and real causes. Patients’ decisions were directly impacted by a political system that hampered science, data-based decision making, and effective communication, contributing to a sluggish national public health response. Under different circumstances, perhaps some of the patients who have recently sat with me in the clinic room would have received care earlier, with smaller tumors, less loss of vision, and a longer life expectancy. Their lives were affected by a virus that traveled around the world and decisions made across the nation.
Along with the micro impacts I was experiencing with my patients, I also felt the macro impact of connectedness. In the summer, I joined a collaborative effort among our medical institution, local public health officials, and our school districts to advise teachers and administrators on best practices for reopening classrooms safely. Despite my experience as a doctor and a parent, I had never seen the Venn diagram of these worlds more clearly: the pandemic had begun to unravel multiple threads of US society. The overlap of racial inequities in socioeconomics, health, and education were unmistakable, as we saw certain populations suffer first and most. Then, as if salt on wounds, wildfires began to rage through our communities, deepening the devastation. Our interconnectedness over space and time was again clear as a blanket of apocalyptic orange spread across the sky, fueled by decades of climate effects.
The concept of interconnectedness was not new: I recalled a Bhutanese meditation practice that had resonated with me years before. The practice focuses on the principle of connection and extending compassion to the self, family, community, and, ultimately, the world. Now, years later, I find myself returning to mindfulness and the integration of medicine and wellness across cultures and time, with the hope that I may be able to apply it for my patients and the broader community. As I dive deeper into the art and science of mindfulness and meditation, I have begun to embrace the idea that perhaps we are here to learn from and/or teach those who cross our paths. I am developing a self-awareness that my decisions should be rooted in love rather than fear. I am focusing on the intention behind actions. I am centering on the idea that we are part of a whole.
“I am focusing on the intention behind actions. I am centering on the idea that we are part of a whole.”
Fear, apathy, injustice, and greed seem to me to be cancers of our society, spreading a deep, systemic suffering. Our cells function both as units and as part of a whole—our bodies. Similar, perhaps, is the blueprint of how we function best as life on this planet, as individual communities that depend on one another to thrive. In the end, the health of the whole depends on the health of its parts.
I’ve kept you longer than I’d expected, my friend. And though we may never meet eye to eye, I am profoundly mindful of the humbling power of our interconnectedness.
Mindfully and Heartfully Yours,
Kavita Kacholia Mishra
This essay was published in the fall 2020 issue of Radcliffe Magazine.
Kavita Kacholia Mishra earned her AB from Harvard College in 1998 and her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2003. She is a member of the Radcliffe Institute Dean’s Advisory Council and an internationally renowned expert in radiation oncology.