Be a Force of Nature: A Letter to Cristina Yang

For those of you who don’t know, my friend Katie (creator of Nerdy Girl Notes) is writing a book! She believes, as I do, in the power of the media to shape us and positively impact our lives. So she created The Fan Mail Project as a way for us as fans to say thank you so some of the fictional characters who have meant the most to our personal development and to highlight all of the good that comes from having diverse, positive examples of female representation in the media. The submission deadline for letters is 3 weeks away, so there is plenty of time to contribute yourself or spread the word. If you need somewhere to start, here’s a few suggestions of characters who aren’t yet represented in the book but are often cited as making a difference. Or if you’d like to see more examples of letters, Katie’s can all be found online as can the contributions of other fans

Dear Cristina,

I’ve always believed that there are some people who come into our lives exactly when we need them. These are the people who fill a piece of your heart and never really leave us. This is who you are to me. I met you a year ago. I was nicely settled in at work, doing a job I enjoy, but am not particularly passionate about. You were a first year resident and already sure you were taking the right path. You were a little off-putting at first, with your confidence and lack of interest in sugarcoating your thoughts. But you quickly revealed a deeper inner life and drive and in you, I found myself.

I didn’t find myself in all of your many positive attributes. I admire your unwavering sense of purpose and your dedication to all things related to cardiothoracic surgery. I cheered at your many successes in the operating room and with your research. But I don’t share that soul-deep certainty that I have found what I want to do with my life. You give me hope that one day I will and that I can approach it with the same tenacity and devotion so thank you for pursuing your dreams without hesitation.

Instead, it’s been in your weaknesses that I am most drawn to you. When you had your ectopic pregnancy and tried to push through like everything was fine, I recognized that impulse. I recognized the need to be strong and not show that you were hurting because in your mind, there was no reason to be. You didn’t want the pregnancy, so you weren’t grieving over a child in the same way you could have been. So life and work continued on and you probably even thought you were fine for a while. But as you and I both know, emotions aren’t that convenient and logical, as much as we wish for them to be at times. When we finally give in and allow ourselves to breakdown, we do it in a big way. Thank you for being so much like me in that moment. Thank you for making me feel less alone in my somewhat ineffective way at handling events and feelings that are beyond my control.

Thank you for finding yourself again. There were a lot of reasons to enjoy your relationship with Burke and I did until you ran away on your wedding day. On paper, you should have worked  two talented, dedicated individuals who found connection in their shared passion. But what I didn’t realize until after the fact was how much of yourself you lost in that relationship. It chipped away at you little by little until you didn’t recognize the person you were anymore. But you kept moving forward. You found your way back to yourself and refused to let anyone else take you away again and once again, I saw myself in you.

I didn’t lose myself in a relationship. I lost myself in grad school. On paper, it was a good fit. I was accepted into two different programs that would have led me down two different paths. The one I chose was the safer path. I could more easily imagine the kinds of jobs I could have and it didn’t require me to uproot my entire life. I already knew and liked my advisor and I liked the research I would be doing. But just like Burke was wrong for you, this program was the wrong fit for me. It asked me to be someone I wasn’t. Never explicitly. No one came out and told me the way I approached research and the things I was passionate about was wrong. But I was different. And in academia, different isn’t always a good thing. I didn’t have your sense of purpose to guide me through and I was lost. I lost my passion. I nearly lost my belief that passion was a good thing. I lost a lot of my writing ability, one of the things I used to pride myself the most on. I knew it was wrong for me at the time. But quitting would have meant failing and that’s not something you or I is very good at. So I stayed and watched myself disappear. Sometimes I’d get myself back for a little bit and would be startled at the difference in the way I felt. But it didn’t last and I’d go back to being someone I didn’t recognize again.

I’ve spent the nearly 3 years since graduating finding myself again. I’m embracing my passions, including the topics that led me to school in the first place. I’m holding on to the way I approach the world and recognizing that it wasn’t me that was wrong. It was just wasn’t the right fit. I’m learning to love writing again and I want to believe I’m improving once more. With the extra perspective, I see the traps I fell into last time and I will fight to avoid falling into them again. You did. You stayed true to yourself and were willing to lose other things, so long as you remained you. Thank you for the ever-present reminder to not compromise myself for anyone else’s comfort or to fit in.

Thank you for having a person. Not necessarily for having someone you can count on to be there and try to understand you, though I’m glad you did because it made you better, but for having a shorthand to say the words that didn’t come easily for you. You care for people deeply. You have ever since you allowed yourself to find a family at Seattle Grace. It didn’t make expressing them any easier for you.

Saying the words is hard. Verbally expressing my emotions is as vulnerable as it gets for me and I’m not always very comfortable with that. Growing up, neither I nor my best friend had any doubt that we were each other’s person. We were there for each other to support each other, cheer each other on and have each other’s backs. But neither of us was the expressive sort. So we had a symbol. It said that we were there. That we would always remain friends. It said the things that we couldn’t with regular words.

I’ve gotten more comfortable with expressing my love for people. I still struggle with it face-to-face, but I can do it in writing now, most of the time. I don’t need the shorthand quite as much but that doesn’t make me appreciate its use any less. In the way you use it with Meredith, I found a recognition and understanding of my own patterns that I had never fully articulated before.

Finally, thank you for being proud to be difficult. Everything about you is kind of difficult. Your confidence is easily mistaken for (and sometimes is) arrogance. You aren’t great at letting people in and that is difficult for other people to deal with. You’re too blunt at times. But you love yourself anyway. You know you are talented and good and that you care, even when others think you don’t. I’m not always there but I want to be. I want to have the confidence that I can let myself show the sides of me that are hard to deal with and know that I will be loved anyway. If I can relate to you as much as I do and see that you can be loved for all of who you are, then I know it is possible for me too.

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