My Accent

My accent,

Some of my most humbling experiences came from traveling to Spain and realizing, for the first time, how much of the language I had to learn. Spanish classes can teach you how the tools of the language function, but they cannot teach your mind to flow like a Spaniard’s. I only began to experience that months after I arrived in Spain (on top of years of studying it) and even now, I must listen to it every day if I wish to maintain it and I often find myself reading Spanish
The most obvious indicator that I did not grow up speaking Spanish, however, is that I speak with an accent. While it has a much more Spanish sound to it than when I began, no Spanish speaker has ever made the mistake of asking me if I was from their country. There are times in which my accent provides a more immediate reminder that I still have work to do to become a perfect Spanish speaker, and it is possible that it may never leave.

Most Hispanic speakers, however, love the accent and are more interested in what I have to say because I first learned their language. I´ve found that some of the easiest friendships I´ve created were with Spanish speakers. They´ve invited me to see their homes and have given me the ability to know a world that I never would have experienced had I not taken those first few steps to properly pronounce “hola, cómo estás?”. My accent, if anything, has always provided a good starting point of conversation for me to become better acquainted with the Spanish speakers that I´ve met.

In many ways, I believe that most of our social issues can be traced back to our willingness to speak with an accent and be humbled by what we still have to learn.

Although there are many different subjects that this could be applied to, I always tend to think of the cultural divide that often occurs between African Americans and White Americans. The thing that I find most striking is the difference in reactions to both national and more local events. When Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American child, was shot dead by a police officer, I was horrified, yet curious as to how everyone would react. Many of my Caucasian friends defended the police by saying that because it was dark and Tamir Rice was carrying a gun, the police officer could be forgiven for reacting quickly and shooting him because it was more important that the police officer not allow any delay in case the fake gun turned out to be dangerous. My African American friends, on the other hand, almost uniformly condemned the shooting and wanted justice for Tamir Rice.

In addition, statistics tend to help show us how different the worlds we live in are. If a job applicant has an African American sounding name, he or she is less likely to be hired than someone with a white sounding name who has a criminal record. African Americans are much more likely to be arrested for pot offenses even though both African Americans and Caucasians smoke at similar rates. In my medical school, less than 10% of all students are African American even though African Americans make up 30% of our state´s population. As depicted above, our reaction to the news and even presidential candidates could not be more different at times. My Spanish friends, having no personal stake in any of this, would simply ask me “Why does America kill its African Americans”?

If we honestly believe that all men are created equal, then it´s about time we fixed these divides. While we can debate the best course of action for remedying these divides, it would be irresponsible for us to forgo learning about each other´s world views and what forms them. If we honestly believe that all men are created equal, then I don´t believe it´s possible to look at these statistics and these stories and say that people of all races and origins have the exact, same opportunity as everyone else. We should not ignore each other. We must begin by learning each other´s language

I believe that this begins with both of us learning about each other´s culture and spending time in each other´s community. This can be done on an individual basis by intentionally meeting people who are different from ourselves and learning about where we came from. Our first words will probably not be right or contain the right phrasing, but I believe that it will take the same time and patience to bridge the divides between us that it takes for someone to learn another language, provided that we have the willingness to try.

On a more national scale, this will only ever end when the worlds we live in are truly the same and an African American´s chances of success is equal to that of a Caucasians. When that day comes, I hope that I can answer my Spanish friend with a firm “no” and tell him that the United States has put those days behind them for good. I hope you help me have the ability to give this answer to my Spanish friend one day.

Written by Seth Thomas
4/1/2017

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For Those of you who haven’t

For those of you who haven´t been in a Latin American church, they can be breathtaking upon the first glance. Apostles and various images of Mary and Jesus litter the ways with several scenes of the crucifixion following their visitors through the cathedral. Angels sing in large plaster choirs backed by erupting suns and beams of painted light signifying the majesty of the occasion. Churches down there are made to impress.

It was down here that one of my darker memories was impressed on me.
After serving at the VIDA clinics, we had come to Granada, Nicaragua to see the city before heading off to the airport to come home. One of the cathedrals had a large plaster Jesus staring out from the inside at the visitors as they filed in the church. Most of the visitors were well dressed and showed no signs of monetary distress. Outside the gates, an emaciated and dirty man was seated with his hands held out, asking for money. His clothes were barely there and he had not eaten for a while from what I could observe.

What bothered me about the scene was the utter lack of attention drawn to him. Although easily 40-50 people passed by in the few minutes that we looked into the church (besides our group), nobody paid him any attention. I could see plaster Jesus eyeing me, our group, the visitors, and our beggar down, but it was as if he didn´t exist.

Perhaps it had been the poverty that I had witnessed in Nicaragua throughout the week. Perhaps I had simply found it unacceptable that so many people could ignore a beggar in from of the figurative eyes of God. In any case, I later tried to return to give him something that could buy him lunch or dinner for the day. Unfortunately, he had already gone away before I returned. We shortly left thereafter with me reminiscing the scene in my head for a while after.

This is not to say that I or any of us can help every beggar find security and comfort in this life. If I could, I would absolutely do it. But I am neither that rich or individually influential to accomplish such a feat at the moment and I have high doubts that I shall reach that status at all, though my future position as a medical doctor will give me more power to reach that goal. But perhaps if we were to find one soul who needed our assistance and would help them, then perhaps the accumulation of good deeds would at least amount to a smaller amount of people stuck in such situations. Our power to positively influence the planet is only as limited as we choose to collectively believe, and one person making a difference can inspire many.

The memory of the man and the church still haunt me to this day. I see his eyes pleading for assistance and the people who chose to ignore him.

Written by Seth Thomas, April 8, 2017

A Third World View of the first world.

When I returned to the United States in the middle of my year abroad, I was overwhelmed with questions, culture, and atmosphere.  With all the talk of the United States’ ever darker political turns, the immense culture shock I felt, and the lack of people whom I felt could understand the ever-swirling emotions that the whole experience was giving me, the 2 weeks I spent in the US were quick and gut wrenching.  Combined with the questions people had for me regarding Spain, the whole experience felt as if I had walked into a press conference completely inebriated.

Through this turret of memories, one statement and its reflection did stand out.   When I was talking to one of my relatives, he mentioned, voice full of pity, how the experience must have made me feel much more fortunate to be a US citizen.  While I was and am fortunate to be a US citizen, the pity echoed in the statement felt incredibly condescending to me.  After having spent 3 months in Spain, I was not under the impression that the United States was better in all aspects.  I could have pointed to Spain´s easier access to health care, fresher food sources across the nation, and lower crime rates, but I decided to stay silent.  That statement, however, challenged me to examine both my next traveling destinations and my own country much more closely.

The more I´ve traveled throughout the world and spoken with people whom don´t hail from my homeland, the more I´ve decided that the United States still has much to learn from many of the “less fortunate” places I´ve been.  Every place I´ve ever been has given me some new level of understanding of the world, of how I can grow, and how my beloved country can improve, third world or not.  From Costa Rica, I came to appreciate a country that prized a life free of distractions (¡pura vida!) and a press whose freedom is somewhat greater than ours according to freedomhouse.org, an international press ratings agency.  Poland gave me a stronger desire to be as courageous as their underground network of spies and adversaries had been when Nazi Germany took over the country.  And in both Nicaragua and Greece, I witnessed people who had little to begin with giving what they had to strangers and refugees in need as many in the United States debated banning the poorest among us.

This is not to say that the United States doesn´t have its moments of triumph.  Our country created the United Nations which has led much higher levels of peace throughout the world.  We kept Europe from falling under the veil of Fascism while giving a home to some of the most influential scientists and artists the world has ever seen.  We´ve created one of the best university systems in the world and for the moment, we still hold some of the greatest power to effect positive change in the world.

But if we are to progress as a nation and as individual citizens, it would behoove us to pay attention to the lessons and stories that other nations can offer us.  Every nation has a place, culture, and history that lends that nation a set of strengths, weaknesses, and character that is unique to that very country.  While we have attained vast power, influence, and strength, we still have much to learn from countries that are different from us.

Love, at its core

While I was in college, there were many things that I had to explore as an individual.  Whether it was my growing desire to see the world or my decision to potentially pursue medicine, I had many different yearnings to discover myself and how I would conduct myself in this world.  One of these topics was love.

When I mention love, I don´t just mean romantic love (although it fits here as well).  Love, as I believed it then and I believe it now, is an attitude and set of actions that people show the world and everyone that they know, be it fiend or friend.  It is something that we choose to do, whether we feel like loving (or burning) our friends, our partners, our world.

But how we show it is another matter.  As I was not one to date too frequently back in college, I chose to watch my friends and acquaintances and see how they conducted their love lives.  I saw couples in equal partnerships and other relationships where one partner would utterly dominate all aspects of their companion.  I´ve known couples who would cycle through stages of great romance onto weeks of ignoring and belittling each other back to romance again. I´ve known people of all sides of the political persuasion and even got to become friends with people who met their significant others from across the sea.  I may have not been in love myself, but that didn´t stop me from trying to learn about it.

In addition, I read about it with what little free time I had.  I remembered opening my bible to 1 Corinthians 13 and wondering how well I had ascribed myself to that sort of care.  I imagined myself sitting there and watching Jim and Huckleberry´s platonic affection grow and saw Mr. Darcy do his best to charm Elizabeth Bennet.  As an aspiring medical student, I would read physician testimonies to find the characteristics that would lead patients to feel that they were cared for and treated with the best possible care.

And of course, I fell in love.

At some point, after everything had been said and done, I found that love, in its purest form, cannot be felt if one of its participants feel they cannot share their own individual worlds with their friends.  No gifts, actions, or words of affirmation can take the place of knowing that someone accepts your eccentricities and weaknesses for what they are, regardless of what you think of them.  This is not to say that you shouldn´t strive to be a better version of yourself.  There is, however no lonelier feeling than feeling as if you cannot share those deepest parts of yourself, and there are few better ways to care for someone than entering those inner worlds together and embracing their intricacies.  There are few ways to better care for people than to encourage them to strive for their better selves while proving that you will never stop caring for them despite what mistakes they may make along the way.  Love, I´ve found, embraces people as they are right now and gives them the strength to become who they wish to be, cherishing them all along the way.

I cannot say that I am perfect in these things.  I will not claim to have reached the highest echelons of love, but I must do what I can, little by little, to embody the only form of it that I have ever seen bring out the best in people.  I read of God, of love everlasting, of how relationships have been salvaged and restored, and try to think of what sort of things I can do unto others.  If I leave this life having helped just a few people find the good within and achieve the potential that lies within them, then that shall be my measure of what kind of man Seth Thomas was while he lived.

The Price of Humanity

One day when I was at Clemson, I met a pediatric neurosurgeon who came to our class to talk about why he chose neurosurgery.  He was on call 24/7 and had just had two emergency surgeries that early morning, but still seemed to be in good spirits. Although he spoke about the many requirements of his job and the importance of doing well on our boards and in medical school, he also told us about his children and one rule that he had created while serving as a neurosurgeon.  He said that “when you have the choice between seeing several patients and going to your son´s baseball game, you can reschedule your patients and they soon won´t remember that you had to reschedule them.  Your son, however, will remember that you didn´t come to his baseball game.”

Your son will remember.

I´ve been in medical school for almost a year and the pressure of it all still gets to me and my classmates at times.  Tests can coalesce into other tests and other labs until it seems as if there exists no moment that your professors haven´t already demanded of you.   Work, studying, and tests can take over if I allow it.

If we allow it.

Medical school isn´t the only thing that can do that.  I´ve had friends fall away from me this year who could always point towards their graduate studies or their jobs as justification to avoid saying hello to me.  I feel their absence with each missed call and unanswered text and while their absence no longer stings, I do still miss them.  I´ve unfortunately had to learn to let go of people who were very important to me earlier in life, but whom no longer play an active role.

I can´t say that I´ve been perfect in all of this or that I´ve been there for every moment that my friends have needed me.  I do my best, but I´ve had much to learn about study habits, about being efficient, and about becoming the physician that I am destined to become.   I find myself apologizing for the time that no longer exists and the messages that I meant to share.

What I can say though, is that I remember those medical students who have asked me how I am much better than any test question or hastily memorized fact that I felt was important for a test.  The kind words of those who encouraged me echo much louder than the written function of the limbic system or the output of the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus.  Though my violin doesn´t sound as often as it once did, it still brings joy to me and those who surround me when I play it. I must ask myself if there isn´t something in all of us that will constantly push us to forget that it is these interactions and these experiences that allow us to live, to breathe, to be.

If you´ve always wanted to be in shape, will you let your business dictate your body?  If Europe has always been your dream destination and nothing but this “project” or this “job” or this “assignment” stands in your way, will you let it stay this way?  If all you´ve wanted to do for the last month was to get a pint of ice cream and eat it with your best friend and remanence, will your studies keep you from being there with him or her?  We will all have to make sacrifices for our work or our jobs, but we cannot sacrifice our own souls in the process if we wish to retain our humanity.

I know that for myself, I will try to make that baseball game.  I will make sure that trip to Europe happens. I will make that lunch date happen to remind my friends that I still care for them and haven´t yet forgotten them. My work will define my profession, but it will never be the full sum of who I am.

What (or whom) will you serve?

Imagine yourself in the following situation.

You, an American, are studying in the University of Madrid in Spain.  You´ve heard countless stories about Spanish hospitality and your stay has done little to dispel that notion.  Between the friends you´ve made and the academic connections you´ve made here, you´ve even potentially begun to see this country as a place where you could live.

Then suddenly, Spain bans the entry of all American citizens.

Spain, in its efforts to rationalize its decision, mentions that it has banned you for the “national security concerns” that you present, being from a country which has been in two wars over the past 14 years and has a high rate of gun death as compared to the Spanish.  It cites the high volume of guns that the US has sold abroad as proof the US citizens are all “gun wielding crazies”. But would this reasoning make you feel any less stung that Spain, once your potential future home, is now your passing place because the country felt that you were too dangerous to even enter the country?

Or perhaps you have no interest in studying in Spain.

You have sons and daughters who were born and raised in the streets of Seville.  Though you were born in the United States, you came to Spain because you fell in love with a Spanish man.  You have come to see the bull fights of Seville, the festive soccer games, and the Spanish tortillas as a part of your cultural identity through the years of raising your family here.  You´ve since gained the legal right to remain in Spain as a permanent citizen. You go to bring your kids back to the United States to show them around their homeland before coming back to your current home.

Upon arrival at the airport, you and your kids are separated.

You, the woman born in the United States, were born in the United States.  You might have held the Spanish equivalent of a green card, but your national origin is more important than your decades of living a peaceful and lawful life under Spanish law.  Your national origin is reason enough to deny you entry to the place where your children live, where your home is.

Of course, Spain hasn´t banned the entry of Americans into Spain.  President Donald Trump has banned the citizens of 7 Muslim majority countries from entering the United States.  For many of you, this will not affect you.  You’re not one of the green card holders who is suddenly cut off from visiting their family or coming back to the place they consider their home.  You’re not one of the students who is now unable to continue their education or further their career over here.  And you are not a refugee who may now be forced to stay in a place where they may be killed or their children potentially be forced into the terrorist groups that President trump claims to be fighting against.

But you will, by inaction or action, be forced to show whether you serve fear.

Both stories, baring their location and country of origin, have people behind him.  I wrote the first story based off Fatemeh, my Iranian friend who is a PhD student in Gainesville.  I wrote the second story based off Mr. Hager´s mother, who was blocked from entering the US from Iraq.  Unfortunately, she passed away due to an inability to access medical care that she was trying to reach in the US as a legal green card holder.

These are just a few of the tens of thousands of stories like these that hide behind the “temporary ban” that the president has initiated.

I´m not interested in discussing the details of how the United States puts its refugees, Muslim and Christian alike, through , having already gone through one of the most extensive screening processes in the world.  I won´t discuss the morality of banning the entry of citizens from countries whose immigrants have not killed a single US citizen on US soil over the last 40 years, whose immigrants make up over 8000 doctors in the United States and whose offspring include the likes of Steve Jobs, the child of Syrians.

But I do want to discuss this truth: you will, by inaction or action, be forced to show whether you serve fear.

My Muslim friends are fearful of how the world seems to be turning against them.  They´ve told me about how tense everything is around them and about the stress of being in a country that appears, by its actions, to judge them for their country instead of their character.  They´ve told me about how much they enjoy this country, but they now feel unwanted as the country moves farther away from what they believed this country stood for: freedom, liberty, and a home whose opportunities extend to all who are willing to work hard and make their own living in this sovereign land.

Do you believe that my Muslim friends are worthy to experience these ideals here in the USA?  Do you believe that citizens from these 7 countries, despite living here in the US for years in many cases, should be banned even though they are less likely to break the law than native born US citizens?  Do you believe that it is right for us to deny their “tired, [their] poor, [their] huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of [their] teeming shore.”, as we stated on our symbol of liberty?

If that is the case, then I challenge you to prove it.

Prove that you are not ignoring the Muslims who are now stuck in limbo as victims of a ban whose effects are now only beginning to be felt.  Make it painfully obvious that you feel the pain of the Muslim families who have now been separated and that you will actively help them to be able to reunite.  Donate to one of the charities that I´ve listed at the end of this article.  If nothing else, say something on Facebook to prove that you´ve listened to people like Fatemeh, like Ms. Hager, like every other people who have seen their lives put on hold because of this executive order.

Because if you hear about mosques being burned to the ground and say nothing, then what everyone else will see in you is fear. If you choose to spread memes and stories against those of Muslim faith without even having the decency to be friends with or even know someone of that faith, then fear will appear to leach from your mouth and presence.  And if you choose silence while others reject them based on their faith, then the overwhelming peaceful majority of citizens from all Muslim countries will hear your silence as proof that our country´s promise, long written on our symbol of liberty, is a falsehood at best.

You will, by inaction or action, have chosen fear. Fatemeh, my friend, will remember you for that. Prove that you serve something greater than fear.

http://www.helprefugees.org.uk/how-to-help/

http://www.unhcr.org/get-involved.html

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-to-help-syrian-refugees-5th-anniversary-crisis/

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/407/151/500/reverse-the-muslim-ban/

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/reject-trumps-muslim

My reflections

“Education begins the Gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.”
John Locke

At times, I find the world to be this ever revolving rhelm of chaotic beauty.  I look at the world and its events and I consider how unspeakably fortunate I am to have encountered the people that I have encountered.  Sometimes, a missed train ticket or getting lost in the streets of a new city have left me with lasting friendships and cherished memories.  What appears to be a missed opportunity one moment turns into a flourishing relationship, enriched by its surreptitiousness.  I may not be perfect in all things, but the time in which I find myself is perfect for what I need to do.

Time does not leave us all happier, but my goal in writing is to understand more than anything else.  Hopefully, as more and more posts populate this website, my morality shall evolve and grow deeper while my life experiences diverge and become enriched.  Hopefully what I write about, I will learn about.