February 7

The Rhythm

February 7, 2018

Personal Growth

Many years ago I served in the United States Air Force in the Medical Corps, my service time being a payment for the military having funded my medical school tuition. I was surprised to learn that all physicians were first required to attend a special basic training just for them. It turned out mostly to be an exercise in paperwork and basic military protocol.

After several days, however, we were also required to learn to march in formation. Initially I thought they were joking—since, as physicians, there was no imaginable circumstance in which we would ever march on active duty—but no, they were not joking. So out we all filed onto the parade ground to learn marching.

There was one full colonel, a sixth-level officer because of previous military service, while the rest of us were captains—third-level officers. The colonel, who very likely had not marched in 20+ years, asked if there was anyone in the group of perhaps 80 who knew how to march a column. I raised my hand, since once in high school I had learned that skill.

After organizing everyone into ranks (horizontal) and files (vertical), I stationed myself at the rear to serve as the cadence caller, the man who would loudly shout the rhythm that would keep the column in unified step. This is done by shouting “Your left, your left” on every other beat—along with more complicated instructions for making turns—or by spontaneously creating poetic songs in strict rhythm. Without a cadence caller, marching would become a chaotic mass of people milling about.

We marched in formation for several minutes, when suddenly the colonel—positioned in the front rank—stopped marching. You can imagine the comedic appearance this created as each succeeding rank walked into the back of the one ahead. The colonel pushed his way through the now-disordered mass, until he stood in front of me. Sternly he barked, “You are out of rhythm.”

“Sir,” I responded—with far too much enjoyment—“I AM the rhythm.” He scowled, muttered something, resumed his place, and continued to march to the cadence.

Many important things in life happen in ways and at a rate—in a rhythm—that we may not comprehend. Every day I hear people bemoan the slow rate of their learning and growth, but they fail to understand that there is a rhythm dictated by their DNA, their epigenome, their past traumas, the love and guidance they’re receiving now, and more. Very often we try to move forward faster than the quiet but powerful cadence being called.

When I was ten years old I decided to become a surgeon. I wanted to become one right then, but it turns out that uncounted thousands of steps were required before I was prepared for that job. Thank goodness I didn’t get my initial wish. Thank goodness we are usually prevented from moving forward emotionally and spiritually faster than we are prepared to do. Our only productive choice is to take the next step, doing our best to listen to the subtle rhythm being called by wisdom or Divine Providence.

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