November 2011

The Traces We Leave 

“We leave traces of ourselves, wherever we go, on whatever we touch.”

That wonderful observation, by Dr. Lewis Thomas—a remarkable teacher, scientist, and author who was the 11th dean of our School of Medicine—gives us, I think, an important opportunity to reflect on our daily work.

It’s struck me over the years how many people carry vivid recollections of chance encounters they’ve had…but rarely, if ever, think of others as remembering them.

Most probably, you’ve heard others mention how years later, they recall a stranger who carried a heavy suitcase down the stairs…or who lent a hand in an emergency…or who offered some other form of help at a crucial moment. Actions like those may seem inconsequential to the person making the gesture, but often prove decisive to the person on the receiving end—sometimes transforming an overwhelmingly stressful situation into something manageable.

At our medical center, we interact every day with people at their most vulnerable. And when someone is frightened and worried, as our patients and their families almost always are, you never know just how profound a difference the smallest gesture of kindness can make.

I’d say that all of us have the chance, again and again, to become an indelible memory for someone else. And that we should actively look for the opportunity to do that—not just for the sake of others, but for ourselves