To Our Unnamed Teachers

Dear friend,

I may never know what compelled you to make this choice,
to expose yourself in a most private and intimate way
to me, a stranger, let alone a hundred or more like me.

I can only imagine who you were in life, what character of soul
you carried within this vessel, a testament to your existence
and your success at making it so far.

In life, there are many ways we can share ourselves,
whether through our minds, our bodies, or our spirits.

In your time, you may have shared all of these, or none of these.

And yet, there was a moment when you decided to give more,
and in doing so, empowered me, and many others, with new knowledge
so that we could do more, and do better, for others who suffer.

In that moment, you felt something that we all feel,
whether we are aware of it or not –
that we are all human beings, that there is commonality between us,
that when you strip away superficial distinctions, we are all the same.

For you, no selfish desire to have your image preserved indefinitely
As you are laid to rest.

What others might have seen as a sacrifice
You saw it as the last gift you could give,
And I am grateful to receive it and prepare to pass it on.

To you, a teacher whose name I will never know,
I thank you for this knowledge and this ability to fight disease.

To you, a fellow human being,
I thank you for your bold statement of commonality, that we are united as one people.

To you, a kindred spirit,
I thank you for this early, powerful reminder that since we are all from the same stock,
we must do what we can to help one another recover
from those unjust causes of suffering.

You have my thanks, and now please accept my promise
to pass on this knowledge and your final message.

Rest in peace.

Today, we had our Cadaver Memorial Service, a very well-orchestrated and emotionally moving event, in honor of those who donated their bodies to medical education and the training of new physicians. In addition to an invocation, scripture readings, and two musical performances (including an a capella version of the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked), six speakers (including myself), one from each Anatomy lab, reflected on our experiences with the cadavers in the Gross Anatomy course. Remarkably, without prior consultation, we all reflected on shared themes: gratitude, awe at their wealth of spirit, and respect for our anonymous teachers.

Leaving the service, I realized that for me (and hopefully my colleagues), this gratitude and respect extends not only to the donors and our course instructors, but also to patients whom I have had the privilege to learn from during this past year (and during my pre-medical school experiences). Whether consciously given or not, patients who seek care at teaching institutions give a meaningful and valuable gift to its students. I find it very encouraging that I, and others, will aim to honor those gifts during our training and our careers.

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