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Editor's Comments on 'True Strength'

 , June 25, 2018

In “True Strength,” Kevin Zhang beautifully describes his relationship with a patient, “Joon Soong.” His essay impels us to reconsider what strength is, and how adversity – whether experienced or witnessed – changes our definition of it. Initially the speaker characterizes strength as the ability to hold back tears and to make it through long nights of studying. By the essay’s end he has moved to an idea of strength that is based in gratitude. This is symbolized by Zhang’s description of Joon’s signature gesture of thanks, which symbolized “that everything would be all right—that regardless of the outcome, he had collected everything he needed emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically.”


Where do our patients get such strength? Where do any of us find it? Zhang eloquently answers this question as the essay moves through the Soong family’s grief to their acceptance. Perhaps strength is less about mastery and control – of one’s emotions, of outcomes, of life – and more about acceptance and our ability to maintain an orientation toward gratitude in the face of anything, even the unimaginable. We draw this kind of strength from others, as we see Joon draw strength from his family, and vice versa, during his most difficult moments. Zhang’s poignant writing is evidence of his compassion – not only toward his patient, but also toward himself – and his own growing personal strength. At the heart of this essay sits the author’s powerful gratitude toward his patient for imparting a lesson he hadn’t known he needed.


“True Strength” reminds me of the power of mindfulness – acceptance, gratitude, and compassion are all components of this meditation practice. Zhang demonstrates how employing these principles in medicine can elevate our practice to the highest level of human connection.

Irène Mathieu