Hospitalized at Christmas and Long-Distance Grandma

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

In my reading, these two poems, one by a (then) 3rd year medical student, the other by a distinguished family medicine behavioral scientist, are about two things: the contextualized nature of human life and the miracles necessary when we lose that context. Human beings are particularistic creatures emerging from and anchored by history, family, relationships, culture, faith, place, and life experience. Plucked from these orienting details, we become unbelievable, pathetic, and two dimensional. Brian McMichael writes movingly of his “long-distance” grandma, whom he knew only in one way — “brow-beaten lost and pathetic” when she visited him in California, separated from the context, roots, and place in the world that defined her. Yet in her home environment, hard-scrabble and in decline as it was, full of tough rather than romantic memories, she is strong, “lucid and vibrant.” The details of her life, demanding and sometimes ugly, shimmer with authenticity. He discovers in his grandma a stranger to be proud of.

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