There are only three kinds of people in the world, those who are good at math and those who aren’t.
POETRY OF THE TIMES
Unless you were in my seventh grade
algebra class Fran, where gentle Mr. C.
did his best to humor students into solving
for X while guidance counselor Mrs. T,
scared us into believing college
and med school were out of reach
without an A in algebra, which kick-started
my career of grinding and grade grubbing,
feigning calm when a problem fought back,
my headaches so severe, Dr. Sheer
X-rayed for tumors and confirmed
the pressure on a firstborn Jewish son.
Sixty years later, I’m doing the math
on my medical career, still wondering
why I learned to solve quadratic equations,
Mr. C at the blackboard, his chalk stub
stuttering on slate, white dust coating
a shabby suit, his mercy like a doctor’s
when a problem pinned me down:
Mr. Berlin, your calculations are wrong,
but they’re not life threatening!
And he’d pause for a laugh from the class,
take a breath and soften his second blow
with another dose of math teacher corn:
Yes, Mr. Berlin’s solution is creative,
though not quite right, which confirms
what I’ve taught you all year:
There are only three kinds of people
in the world, those who are good at math
and those who aren’t. And we laughed
again because he made us feel safe
and loved, even when we stumbled,
his calculated goal to teach us how
to solve for X when X equals kindness.
Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 24 years in Psychiatric TimesTM in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch. ❒