Twice weekly, at what might be considered the crack of dawn to most college students, I would climb the grey marble stairs to the second floor of White-Gravenor Hall and sleepily stumble to a sturdy wood seat in the corner. It was first semester, sophomore year, and I found myself enrolled in Professor Sabat's PSYCH-101 course.
With a full white beard and a warmth that emanated as he spoke, Professor Sabat would dive into the world of neuroscience and neurobiology with the skill of a well-seasoned pro and the compassion of a man dedicated to revealing the personhood in an industry that seeks to pathologize.
An expert in the biology and a wholehearted believer in the personhood behind Alzheimer's Disease, Professor Sabat had (and has) the distinct ability to make neuroscience seem like far more than a random firing of neurons, synapses, and chemical reactions. Through his lectures, biology was both explained and expanded upon, and neuroscience became the lens through which the mysteries of the universe could be found. Whether discussing anatomy or abnormal psychology, pathology or human development, he somehow managed to connect it to our lives as (entirely self-centered and exhausted) university students.
For me, it was the first of many lessons in how to weave a story, bring life to even the driest of subjects, and connect to the audience in front of you.
But it was the way in which he ended his lectures that sticks with me still, a decade later.
At the end of each class, rather than leaving us with an assignment, he would pull out a book, an article, or a newspaper snippet. He would hold the paper in his hand, unfolding it with great love and intention, caressing the pages between his fingers. From his place at the front of the classroom, he would read to us - a short story about love, a new scientific discovery, a poem. When he finished reading, he would pause for a moment, only to continue on to "lecture" us about hope, compassion, and our call to make a positive impact on the world.
Truthfully, it was less a lecture than an authentic and true reminder of all that is good.
I'll never forget his emotionally-charge discussion of the word "awesome." He spoke to us with fiery passion, hands gesticulating wildly as his voice rose higher. He begged us to stop using the word haphazardly. Instead, he gave us examples of the truly awesome. The birth of his first child. The day that he married his wife. What it looked like to study the brain, knowing that your research has the potential to fuel deeper understanding and compassionate care. For many, the study of psychology becomes a study of pathology and the flawed human condition. For Professor Sabat, his study became a reminder of what was truly miraculous in the world.
At the end of each class, I was gifted with the reminder that what I had learned could and should be used to further tremendous positive change. And that I had the power to make it happen.
I count Professor Sabat's class as a pivotal moment in my life. A foundation-shaking blessing. A covert course in miracles. It's with that experience that I am able to witness and celebrate the miraculous in the midst of the chaos. As a writer, mentor, friend, daughter, sister, and wife (not to mention the plethora of other identities that I inhabit), this ability has been a guiding force for good in my life -- a reminder that, though life isn't always easy, it is always, always good.
This week, as the news media overflowed with stories of fear, disease, and decline, I was reminded of my covert course in miracles. It's so easy to either get caught up in the fear-soaked madness or, rather, to desperately flee from what is actually happening in the world.
I did neither.
Rather than focusing on scare tactics and apocalyptic language, I chose instead to refocus in the direction of the miraculous. Deep, deep gratitude. For the truly incredible teachers, mentors, and leaders in my life. For the beauty in wholehearted community and the transformative power of creative expression. For the simple (and entirely miraculous) gift of being with someone you love. For bravery and compassionate action and our opportunity to create change. For generosity and curiosity and courage. For learning, always learning.
And for you.
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