Dr. Aziz Merchant, MDHom
I must tell you that I scratched off the original blog material I was writing since January to publish in February, when on a Wednesday, my daughter came home from school, gleaming: “Daddy, I have something for you!”
And she pulled out from her backpack The Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean.
This blog will be published in February, and incidentally, Stuart McLean passed away on 15 Feb 2017. I was a big fan of Stuart’s.
In case you do not know of this Canadian icon, Stuart was a connoisseur of storytelling, a captivating radio broadcaster, humorist, monologist, three-time winner of the Steven Leacock Memorial medal for humor (Steven Leacock was one of my favorite writers too), and a member of the Order of Canada. I was hooked on to his story series, the Vinyl Café hosted by CBC and presented live at his annual Christmas Tour.
I vividly recall that dreary winter day in 2010, when I was fresh off the boat, struggling to establish a private Homeopathic practice, trying to network with other practitioners while I handed out my resumes to pharmacies in the hopes of working as a Pharmacy technician. It was one of those challenging days, and on my way home I flicked on the radio in my car and happened upon an amazing episode of The Vinyl Café, and the story was “The Hairdresser.” All the comedy of errors in the story’s plot and realizing how hypochondriac Dave could be, just made my day! I was hooked, so to speak. I looked forward to this broadcast every weekend afternoon religiously. I started perceiving each character in the light of Homeopathic Materia medica, guessing their constitutional remedy and coming up with rubrics for each one of them.
What struck me the most was Stuart’s concept that the world is a good place, full of good people, trying to do their best. He believed in people’s extraordinary capacity for love and generosity. And this was reflected in his stories, and his stories were full of characters that you and I could relate to. And I believed him, and I am glad I did, because it reaffirmed my belief in myself and the difference that I was able to make in my patient’s lives with the help of Homeopathy.
But life is a cycle — where an end of one journey is the beginning of next. Fast forward to February of 2021 (or rewinding a year based on when this is published? I have always struggled with time being a linear construct. Musings for another blog, perhaps) when my wife and I found out we were expecting our third child. I admit, despite helping much older couples conceive, we felt some trepidation about parenting a new born in our 40s. We last did this gig 8 years ago, and the memory of the nitty-gritties of raising a child was fading. But the old scars of sleep deprivation were still fresh, and haunting. (As I write this, I am under influence of a poor night’s sleep. I was interrupted every two hours the previous night and I struggle to determine the culprit — is it teething? Colic? Growth spurt? Transferred parental stress?)
At the end of the day (well that is night time, and I still dread it as I look at my 3 month-old gnawing his fist and salivating profusely!) it is all worth it. And it is love that makes it worthwhile.
Simply put, love inspires us to be happy, hopeful, grateful and it changes our lives. Moreover, it makes you want to change into better versions of yourself, become selfless, and makes you want to believe. And all these emotions stemming from love is not just a euphoric daze. This has been proven in multiple studies conducted in modern neuroscience and psychology, through techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging scans which detect variations in blood flow to measure brain activity — analyzing individual’s responses to pictures and questions concerning their significant others.
Researchers concluded that love — rather than a single emotion, is a state of motivation which leads to many distinct and separate emotions. The findings, which have since been reproduced by numerous studies, suggest that love activates the parts of our brain which control goal-oriented motivation. When in love, we are motivated to attract or please the person with whom we are in a relationship. In doing so successfully, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter vital to reward-motivated behavior.
The excitement derived from short term love (limerence) was found to activate the same reward centers of the brain affected by money or cocaine. Long-term love was still found to activate these reward centers. However, for individuals in long-term or committed relationships, researchers observed a spike in activity in the part of our brain associated with attachment. Essentially, the excitement and anxiety associated with limerence calms down as love evolves into a shield against feelings of anxiety. This doesn’t mean you have to have someone worth loving. You can find something you love to do — an action, a sustained, learned behavior. These actions evoke the same centers in the brain as emotional love.
The ability to love is really understated in our current situation where things are more about panic driven policies and mandates. Mankind it seems, is cornered into an adrenalin and cortisol charged fight or flight responses clearly juxtaposed to affection, compassion and sympathy led endorphins that have demonstrable health benefits. It is an irony that we have to “fight” an epidemic, “battle” a global pandemic in order to feel secure once again. We all know what happens after a fight. There is collateral damage that affects many a loved ones.
So, take a moment and realize that you are loved — by people you may or may not know. Visualize the people or things that you love to do and perceive a sense of satisfaction and contentment when you are in a tight spot. Knowing how love can affect your being is an empowering phenomenon, one that can be fuelled by you, yourself and no one else. Love also means being vulnerable and allowing ourselves to be hurt by those we love the most — whether we like it or not, it is always a reality. This is what makes us human, and being human gives us permission to feel hurt, grieve, and love again.
In conclusion, I will let you ruminate on the words of the late great Stuart McLean:
“We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day — like Dave, and Morley, and Sam, and Stephanie — standing in the kitchen of our lives, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, and alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing. Mother or father, brother or sister, wife or husband, or a dog or cat. It doesn’t really matter. After a while, each death feels like all the deaths, and you stand there like everyone else has stood there before you, while the big wind of sadness blows around and through you.”