Good morning. Will you look me in the eye?

Nov 2, 2013

Yesterday, walking through the hospital concourse on my way back to my office, I saw a man studying a paper map, and as I’m accustomed to do (save for the past couple of weeks where it was hard for me to meet the gaze of anyone — listen to my spoken essay to understand why), I offered to walk him to the part of the hospital where he needed to be. We talked along the way, and I learned that he had served in the Army, with tours in Iraq, and that he’d been stationed in a place I once lived. When we reached the spot for him to turn off, I wished his family well, and I reached out and shook his hand, something I never do in the hospital (although elsewhere I like to shake hands).

This morning, I was up early. I dressed, put the suitcase in the car, and drove in the dark to Duke to retrieve my jacket, which I need for the Association of American Medical Colleges conference in Philadelphia. Got to the airport, opted for the pat down instead of the energy blast, boarded the plane and promptly fell asleep.

At the Philadelphia airport, I was on the train platform studying the system map when a man in a jacket and tie walked up to me and asked a question about the train fare. For the next hour, we talked, because it turned out this man was headed to the same conference, and he had a most amazing life story. He also served in the Army, but that was just one part of his life and work and ambition, beautifully shining through in the way he’s pivoted his career over the the last few years. Now’s not the time for me to share his story. I think there’s a very good chance that he and I will continue our conversation into the future — the short chat this morning already has enriched my life, and I want to learn more from this man.

At Medicine Grand Rounds yesterday, we were all learning from another accomplished man.

Mike Krzyzewski — Coach K — talked about coaching and recruiting and inspiring winning teams (he holds the record). He recounted a time when he challenged a player to look him in the eye and become the leader the team needed, and how that teaching moment and phrase revolved back to him a few years later when that player, now one of the very best at play, repeated the phrase to Coach K to indicate the lesson had been learned. Coach K also explained that at each practice of his teams, he makes a point to talk individually to three of four players, asking about their families or their contracts or their other projects. Leadership is knowing people, and inspiring them to greatness.

My daughter, Anna, and I regularly talk about her experiences in middle school, and how to find friends in the sea of kids there. We have an ongoing experiment to see what will happen if, every day as she walks into school, she looks at three to five other students and says ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning.’

On Halloween, Anna and the rest of the family were out in the neighborhood. I sat on the front porch handing out candy. As a group of costumed middle-school girls walked up toward our house, I heard one of them say, “This is where Anna lives.” Later, I told Anna, explaining that the kids she greets in the morning might not reply to her, but they are listening, and they know who she is.

This post was written in Steep and Grind, a delightful tea-and-coffee house in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. I saw this mentioned in the NYTimes travel section a few weeks back, so I came here straight from the airport to sit at a long table, sip tea, write thank-you notes and think about my interactions with the people above.

Anton Zuiker

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