It was an awkward moment. As most of my moments are really. As I hopped out of my friend’s car and said goodbye, she asked me if I wanted to meet for coffee on Friday morning.
“Oh, I can’t. I have that support group I’m in.”
“The one for doctors wives?” she asked while remembering I had mentioned it awhile back.
“What do you guys…do there?”
I could feel myself itching immediately. The blood rushed to my face. I looked at the ground while I was grabbing my purse out of her car. I probably scratched my forehead, as I often do when I’m nervous and not wanting to lie but fear the truth may be odd to hear.
“We…support each other, you know? There’s a camaraderie in the loneliness of the long hours and dedication it takes. It’s, uh, faith-based. Some of the other women call it bible study. But, I don’t bring one. Sometimes I don’t get the references because I’m one of those heathens.”
I continued nervously, “I couldn’t even tell you where my bible is.”
“…I like it though.”
My friend had one of those cheeky grins on her face that she used to have when she’d come up to my desk at work and not say a word, which was always my cue to head out back for a smoke break at our awful entry-level ad agency jobs.
“Caroline and bible study, huh? Never thought I’d hear that. But, cool if you like it. Have fun at bible study!”
We laughed, blew kisses goodbye and, as any great friendship that has stood the test of time will tell you, didn’t blink much as we’ve watched each other morph, grow and try things we never thought we’d do 15 years ago.
Like get married or have kids. But, I digress…
When I moved back to Michigan, I joined the hubster in the throes of the third year of his ER residency. One in which some cruel soul thought it would be ideal to make the entire third year…night shifts. Not only did I have to reacquaint myself with living with him again, I now had to literally and figuratively tip-toe around our home so as to not disturb a grouchy, sleep-deprived, overworked doctor.
Even if we had been together 11 years at that point. Even if we had been married for 5 years. Even if we had gotten through medical school and, hell, living apart for two years. Nothing, I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the third year (of four) of residency.
What little life had been left in the eyes of the hubster after medical school, was sucked out by this point in residency. It was tough to digest. Living 1400 miles apart provided me a sanctuary from the everyday trouncing that it was.
You can be the most supportive wife in the world and still can’t comprehend what they see. That’s the most sadistic kick-in-the-gut part of it. We’re often relegated to the sidelines. As much as we may try, we can’t take care of them enough to wave the magic wand to make it okay. Those coping skills are up to them and them alone.
I was left with quietly putting the dishes way, running errands while he slept, cooking hot meals, making strong coffee, hoping he came downstairs in a pleasant mood and saying hello at 5pm.
I didn’t know if I would make it. I didn’t know if this was the rest of my life. I still had another year of residency left! I was sick to my stomach for the first few months. I couldn’t journal, meditate or scream into the abyss enough to make it better.
I didn’t have much support myself from people who “got it.”
It was awful. Full stop.
“So there’s this support group I’m in for wives or partners of those anywhere in their medical journey from med school to attendings. It’s a bible study. But we’re not overly preachy or religious or anything like that. It’s Christian based, but anyone is welcome.”
My friend Judy was telling me this across the kitchen island during our loud and fun Friendsgiving last year. She was the multi-tasking champ: feeding a squirmy 2-year-old in one hand, drinking wine from another and offering support to someone (me) who may have looked a little worse for the wear when she asked me how I was doing.
I’ve never been very good at hiding sadness in front of people I know will get it.
“I don’t know. I’m the least religious person you may know. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone with my views.”
She assured me that it wasn’t like that. That she herself used to be a regular church-goer, but left, as many do, because of certain issues that weren’t resolved in her mind. She told me she likes to ask questions. She wants to ask questions. She likes to hear what others think.
“Yeah, but that’s you,” I said. “Not everyone is as open-minded.”
She told me to just think about it and she didn’t bring it up again for months.
Little did I know, this was the gentle prodding I needed.
I say “fuck” a lot. I sometimes make it into a mountain of fuckity fucks, with fuckery and fuckalicious goodness if I’m feeling mighty fucking saucy. From just that alone, I shouldn’t be going anywhere near a church.
But, by January of that year I was at the point that I would try anything. Even a “bible study.”
So, on my thirty-eighth birthday, I walked into a room full of strangers who sat in a relaxed circle and nervously announced, “Hi. I’m Caroline. I just moved back to Michigan from Florida. My husband’s in his third year of his EM residency. I’m a copywriter. Own my own business. No kids. Oh, and today’s my birthday.”
I was welcomed with surprise at my revelation and a nearly unison, “Happy Birthday!” from a group of smiley, supportive women.
My previous church going experience didn’t extend much beyond elementary school after my parents got divorced. I was like many people I know: Christened. Christmas & Easter. I had opted for the Basic Christian package.
I had wondered if that would be enough.
What proceeded in the months following was a revelation (pun intended) for me in what is, very often, our own preconcieved notions.
I listened as women shared the very same fears I had when the hubster was in medical school, over the very same exams and boards and STEPS and residency matches.
I watched as women simultaneously rocked their baby to sleep while discussing the common threads of a challenging motherhood.
I heard gruesome, grueling stories of longer surgical residency hours than the hubster has ever had to experience.
I witnessed that faith may look different on different people, but the “we’re all in this together” mentality was the overarching glue.
I heard stories of woman after woman juggling a medical journey and working towards bigger goals that serve her, while putting faith in her God and family that it will work. That there is an end.
I shared that my version of God may be more spiritual and based on the universe and human spirit.
The world didn’t stop. The record didn’t screech. Tomatoes were not thrown at me. I wasn’t chastised with holy water and kicked out the door.
I was heard amongst a fierce group of women-warriors, even if our ideas of faith are different. Sure, I may not understand every reference, I may not know the bible at all in comparison to some, but I was met with an open, judgement-free zone when I asked or questioned or expressed how it may come across to non-believers or those who have a different faith.
While the common thread for these meetings is based in a faith, what I’ve taken from it is so much more than that.
We all have the same goals. The same fears. The same dreams. The same hopes for children. The same frustrations with marriage. The same love of the third season of The Crown. Oh wait, no, that was just me.
This is why traveling is so emotional for me, why it ticks so many boxes in my happy-heart list. We are so much more alike than we think. For fuck’s sake, even for a heathen like me.
I anticipated judgement because I have experienced it. I’ve experienced the nasty part of religion where it’s self-serving and judgmental and in a knee-jerk reaction, I painted a broad stroke that all of these faith-based woo-woo, ra-ra-shish-com-bah, Jesus-can-you-hear-me-meetings must be like that. For a person who knows that so many things fall on a spectrum, I sure wasn’t allowing much room for there to be a different way to practice.
So, I’m graciously acknowledging my own judgement too.
It may have been based on some pretty crappy versions that would give anyone with the same faith a bad name, and Jesus do I know there’s more out there.
But my fear of judgement shouldn’t create more on my part.
After nearly every single meeting I come home feeling a bit more grounded, a bit less alone. We are experiencing the same medical journey together, in various stages and versions. But the support is foundational and standard at every meeting. I often watch in wonder at these women who find such comfort in their faith. That unyielding trust that there is a path and we’re on it together, regardless of our differences.
Imagine that. Loving someone that may be different.
How very Christian of you.