I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
- Tennyson, Ulysses, 1842.
Today is the last day of 2023, a year in which I was finally able to achieve a dream long in the making. I have a little office entirely of my own, a place in which I can conduct my business and run my clinic. I have an arrangement in which I can work for myself, engaging in the practice of physiotherapy in a manner in line with my mission and my desire to improve the world in my own way and with my own capabilities. I've said it to clients and friends, and I'll write it down here for everyone else to read in spite of my fear that articulating anything out loud causes the universe to conspire against me and my intentions. I'm superstitious, I know, but I'm also doing the best I can. My goal in life is to improve the lot of my community and of the people around me. Physiotherapy is how I go about doing that, and the clinic is how I go about doing the business of practising physiotherapy. Now that I work entirely for myself, I'm as close to the means and machines through which I can make good on that life's mission as I can be. I can and do call the shots and do exactly what's needed and necessary to get the best outcome for those who trust me to be their clinician, regardless of cost or effort.
In that way, this achievement doesn't just belong to me. The things I've done this year are thanks to every person who took a chance on me as their clinician, everyone who came back because they thought I could take them to the finish line or just because they wanted to talk about really obscure historical trivia or get a recommendation for a local bar. The achievement of this year is that a sufficient number of people gave me their trust, their good will, and their time, and made this happen for me. Even if they weren't a client, I've had so many conversations with others - words of encouragement from family, friends, and sometimes strangers that kept me tided over when I didn't believe in myself or my capabilities. Even if they weren't conversations, I've had so much unconditional support from those same people, whether that support was practical, pecuniary, or even just a small gesture of reassurance. I'll never in my life tell anyone that I did anything myself - the clinic, my life, and my achievements are the dividend of the investments of faith, provided unconditionally, uncritically and with love, big and small, that made me who I am today, warts and all - I am the gifts my parents gave me, the love and patience of my friends, the regard and respect of my peers, and the trust of my patients.
My promise in that understanding is to vindicate that investiture of faith and goodwill, and to use those advantages, supports, and efforts of others to give back to the people around me. I try to do my best for my clients under my care, for their families and friends (and there have been many family members, coworkers, team-mates, band members and friends who've been a part of it,) for the community in which we all live and work, and hopefully to propagate the good intentions I've made real through doing my work as well as I can and contribute to the health, wellbeing and fullness of life of my community more generally.
The world in which we live is increasingly tremulous. In the past, I myself have described the world as cruel. I don't think that's correct. I think that the world is indifferent, and not out of a sense of cruelty. The world is indifferent because it's too large and has too much in it going all its own way for everything to go my or your way even a little bit of the time. As humans, we just go along as best we can, navigating waters whose depth and violence are largely concealed behind the moment to moment doing of life, beneath the peaks and troughs of the vicissitudes of fate to which we are all subjected. The Greeks called it Fate, interpreting life through a divine lens. The Enlightenment writers called it Causality, interpreting life through the empiricism that they believed would bring the world to heel. Other philosophers called the world Absurd. I don't have a name for it because I'm not that smart. You can tell that, because these are not new or novel ideas.
Indifference is not cruelty. Cruelty has animus and motivation, wherein a power goes out of its way to be ruinous. The world can't go out of its way to cause harm because things like harm are too small to even register on cosmic and geological timescales. Pain doesn't matter to the universe. Instead, the irrevocable, inscrutable, and inevitable movement of the world is what makes it seem cruel. How often have we wanted life to stop for us when we are in pain or distress? How often have we wanted things to slow down, even just a little so that we can take stock of what's going on? How often has anyone just wanted a break? That indifference, that forward movement, that absolute momentum is so irresistible as to be cruel. That indifference is what we have to endure. The movement of the world, of the water, of the life around us is something that we must bear and against which we must brace, holding as firmly as we can as the waves beat against us, reshaping us little by little and day by day. Life gets the better of us in the end. We can't fight time or nature.
What we can do is care. Caring is a doing process - it encompasses empathy, consideration, action, reflection and respect. To care is to leave a little inside ourselves for people and things outside of ourselves, to give a little of what we've got for others so they have a little more, even if for a moment. Sometimes it's a kind word. Other times it's a moment of understanding. Sometimes it's just someone who helps things slow down so that there's time to breathe. Other times it's someone close to the levers and knobs of power who uses that machine to make things happen for someone coming to them in need. Caring as an act of rebellion against the indifference of the world is not a new concept. None of these thoughts are new. None of this is profound, in fact it's very simple, and I like it that way, because my brain, like yours, isn't that far removed from the brain of our simian ancestors and therefore doesn't handle Complexity very well. Caring is simple. Caring is kind. Caring is easy, but caring is hard because it takes energy, first from what we might otherwise have for ourselves and then out from our reserve. Caring is hard because it's hard to dig deep and give of yourself when you've got nothing left at the end of the day, when you're beaten and tired. Caring is hard because it's hard to care when you're pushed to the limit, when all you've got to hold onto is the short end of the stick, and that's something I'm seeing happen more and more in the world in which we live. It really feels like things are sideways, but that's why it's important to care, because this is life. This is water. This is the same chance we've all got and nobody gets out of this alive, so the least we can do is to spare time and energy for people around us. I spent a lot of time when I was younger worrying about what I was going to do in my life. Now I'm older, I know that before I do anything, I'm going to care. I'm going to try. To not try would be to be as indifferent as the world is, and maybe just as cruel.
I am under no illusion that what I've got going is unique, or novel, or singular. There are other people doing what I'm doing, there have been people who've done this before, there are going to be people who do it after I'm gone and after my spurs are hung and rusted. What I've got going is mine, and it's my shot at doing right by myself and the world around me. It's my opportunity to take the effort, the love, and the faith that's been given to me and give it back to the world and hopefully make it a better place, and in that way maybe I can mean to other people what other people have meant to me too. Just like how the person I am is a mosaic of the care that other people have shown for me, I hope that the legacy I can leave behind is perpetuated by those small acts that last for as long as they can endure, and mean as much as they are able.
I hope that this endeavour goes well, and maybe I'll look back on those words with bittersweet recollection in the future if it doesn't, but for now that's how I feel. I hope that by subjecting my mission to the great hurdle, the litmus test of the private market, I can strike a balance between providing healthcare that's high-quality, accessible, bespoke, and through a business which sustains me and maybe even ends up having other people involved too. I dare to dream. There have been times where I've felt like this was a massive vanity project, where I've felt sick at the thought that I've staked my family's wellbeing on an endeavour whose outcome isn't known to me, but that's a moot point because we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow let alone in ten years. I hope that this enterprise gives me the opportunity to make life better for people around me as well as to sustain my own life and soul, and if not, I hope that I'll be humble enough to walk back into the workforce and eat my humble pie on my break.
At the end of it, I hope it's fun. I hope the good times keep on coming and hanging around, and that the investiture of time I've put into setting this up is just the foundation for bigger, stronger things that have the potential to shape lives, communities, and maybe something beyond that. Who knows. Google, Amazon and Facebook were started in garages, after all. (I guess that might be a problem because I live in an apartment and park my car under a tree by the side of the road, but once I get a house, oh boy, watch out.) I hope that the fun, the work, the late nights, and the time I share with my clients, my peers, and my friends is just the beginning of a great and enduring heritage of care and good works that makes things better for people. I hope that the work I do stays fun, novel, and that it keeps me vital, engaged with the people around me, and I hope that it preserves my capacity to care, so I don't go hollow and become indifferent to the people around me.
I hope that I endure the days, that we endure the years, and that care, love, and faith endure the passage of time, so we can all rest under a blue sky that sits easily on our shoulders.
See you in 2024.
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.