Perspective

By: Ada Wan
October 19, 2012

For someone who was relegated to her bed day in and day out in a dank corner of a dilapidated nursing home, Sarah* exuded an unexpected sunniness in all of our interactions. At well over 75 years of age, she smacked her Mentos chewing gum with glee and dispensed enthusiastic, if unsolicited, relationship advice, usually along the lines of, “Now, Ada, make sure he is a nice boy. If he ain’t nice, you just let him go, you hear?” Nearly three hundred pounds and countless medical conditions notwithstanding, she was also quick to share her belief that she would one day walk again out of that nursing home. Sarah and I became friends a year ago when I came to visit her then-roommate, whom I had met through a service project for church. For our weekly visits, I would bring her a fresh supply of Mentos, and she would hold my hand, which was her favorite way of engaging (“your little hands are so warm!”). While I enjoyed our time together, however, I often left our visits lamenting how little I could do to change a system that generated millions of Sarah’s—neglected by not only the already overworked nurses at the nursing home but also society as a whole. My intentions, however good, could make a difference for only one woman when I longed to make a difference for so many more. This desire to pair good intentions with systemic impact was what led me to SOM this past August. Inspired by Sarah and friends like her, I sought the empirical analysis, economic understanding and management skills that would eventually allow me to improve quality of life for the marginalized members of our domestic and global society, whether they are obstetric fistula survivors in Somaliland or regular guests at the local homeless shelter. In the frenzy of our first fall quarter, in the midst of calculating deadweight loss and net present value, I had indeed increased my understanding in all of these areas--but had completely forgotten my reasons for coming in the first place. In fact, by the time I completed our four final exams and two final papers last weekend, I had not seen or spoken to Sarah in two months. During my last visit in August, she had wished me good luck at school and asked me not to forget her; looking back, I was ashamed to admit that she had hardly been on my mind during that first quarter. With finals behind me last weekend, I finally made my way back to Boston—and Sarah. Upon arriving in her room, with a Red Rover mum in hand as a surprise, I found that however challenging the last two months had been for me, they had been even more challenging for her. Now breathing through a respirator, Sarah could no longer speak; while her eyes were open, they stared blankly at the ceiling, failing to focus on me even when I spoke her name. All I could do was hold her hand, hoping that she could at least sense my presence that way. When time came to leave, I kissed her on the cheek and got up—only to find that she would not let go of my hand. General unresponsiveness notwithstanding, she would squeeze it extra hard when I tried to leave. Perhaps my visit did make a difference to her, after all. And it certainly made a difference to me. Sometimes, all it takes is holding someone’s hand to regain your perspective on life—and your reasons for coming to business school.   *Name changed for identity protection purposes

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About the author

Ada Wan

Internship: Google