Sometimes, It’s Simply About Starting Somewhere.

Isaac’s Tumor

So, there’s an episode on Grey’s Anatomy titled Give Peace A Chance, where a lab technician named Isaac (Faran Tahir) approached Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), a world-renowned neurosurgeon, with scans of an inoperable spinal tumor. Dr. Maranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) referred to the tumor as “the great white of all tumors.” Not knowing that the tumor belonged to Isaac, Derek, just after one glance, was inspired. He wanted to operate. Now, if you’ve seen this episode, feel free to jump to the paragraph which states: Start Here. If you haven’t, keep reading or logon to Netflix to watch season six, episode seven.

Back to the episode! Now, of course, there were multiple exchanges between Isaac and Derek, but in the end, Derek agreed to operate. Prior to attempting to remove the tumor, Derek understood that he had two options. The first was after opening the patient up he would cut the patient’s spinal chord in efforts to completely remove the tumor without killing him. But, this option would essentially leave Isaac paralyzed from the neck down. The second option was to find a way to completely remove the tumor without cutting the spinal chord. This option came with greater challenges because the tumor found a way to extensively wrap itself around the Isaac’s spinal chord, invading blood supply, and disrupting veins and nerve roots. The tumor was smart, complex, and in a scientific sort of way, gorgeous. Knowing Derek’s initial response, Isaac encouraged Derek to consider the latter.

On the day of the surgery, Derek opened Isaac up, exposing the tumor. Derek found that there was no clear way to begin. He stood in the operating room for ten hours, looking at the tumor without ever making a cut. Out of fear of subjecting the patient to infection, Derek decided to close and retire Isaac to the recovery wing of the hospital. Derek explained to Isaac that there was no way to remove the tumor without cutting the chord or killing him, Isaac smiled with promise in his eyes and asked Derek to sleep on it. To understand Isaac’s persistence towards the latter choice and his unwillingness to give up, one must understand his past. Isaac lost everything, his entire family to terrorism in his country; his wife, children, home, and other relatives. It’s safe to say that Isaac had nothing to lose. Sure, Derek went home, but he didn’t sleep. He burned the midnight oil with his wife (also a surgeon, Meredith Grey, Ellen Pompeo) to find a solution. What he realized was that no matter where he started, there was risk. He also realized that the scans Isaac provided only gave him a glance of what the tumor actually looked like. He simply had to open Isaac up, pick a place to start, and cut. There could be no plan because with a plan, doubt and uncertainty would ensue. Now, for the sake of time (yours and mine), Derek completely removed the tumor without paralyzing or killing Isaac.

Start here. Among all of the incredible Grey’s episodes, this is one of my favorites. While watching, I too was inspired. I realized that much of life is exactly like that. The problems as well as our steps towards finding solutions only reveal themselves after we’ve made a conscious decision to jump in. It’s certainly like that is regards to finding ways to confront issues of class, diversity, and inclusion, race, and racism. All of those issues combined create the perfect tumor. It’s complex, frustrating, but also fascinating. I think the point of it all is to start some place. The first “cut” doesn’t have to be pretty, it has to be made. So, as we quickly move into another academic year, towards creating better experiences for students and ourselves, towards reconciliation and constructing safer, more reliable spaces of inclusion and diversity, I encourage us to take chances, to simply start the work. Sure, in the synopsis above, the characters can afford to take chances, despite professional and ethical issues–it’s TV land! But, we can’t afford to be timid or unsure, there’s too much at stake. We have to assist each other, our colleagues, students, and community members into finding ways to identify and extract elements that are crippling to the very nature of what we do, what we believe, and what we strive to become. Perhaps, we are afraid that we will fail, that we will offend someone, or that our outcomes might result in something we did not intend. Guess what? All of those scenarios are possible and will happen! What I’ve found to be amazing in my own “starting points” is taking advantage of the opportunity… to learn, to figure out what to do next, how to access, how to fix, and how to consolidate along the way. And if I come to problem that seems impossible, I’ll just take a break and think. Now I’m not saying that we should go in raising hell and turning our desks over—even though sometimes it might make us feel good. Instead, focus our frustration towards the problem. Sure, we must equip ourselves with information in efforts to make informed decisions, but it says a lot when we choose to sit on information that has the possibility to improve our musical spaces and we fail to act, to employ it. Be inspired and encouraged by  the difficulties and complexities that lie in front of us, knowing that there is a solution, one by which you us can easily be a part of. As we’ve witnessed in our own institutions, musical organizations, and communities throughout this nation and the world is that we have arrived at a crossroads. We have to make a choice. Start. I’m willing to bet if we all started, we would meet in the middle, we would find the answers.

As a commitment to “simply starting,” I will post a weekly snippet of what our starting points could look like towards creating more diverse spaces and confronting our socially compromised selves within our musical communities. Hopefully, these posts will inspire others to take a leap towards transcendence and reconciliation. Until next time, be encouraged, find ways to be inspired, and Rise Up!



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