Review of The Beauty of Breaking: A Memoir by Michele Harper
Updated: Aug 26, 2020
Harper is appealingly centered despite upheaval in her life, but I didn't feel emotionally drawn into her experiences as a doctor who cares deeply about her patients.
Harper's memoir begins when her marriage is ending and her medical career as an ER doctor is beginning. The moment-by-moment layering of the issues she must deal with in the ER are fascinating. However, this juggling act is explored most fully in the beginning of the book.
She offers long soliloquies of wisdom to patients who have shared something about their own situations--including patients who are actually intended for other areas of the hospital, such as psychiatry or rehab. These are shared as encounters in which she hears versions of life stories and imparts her condensed wisdom (to paraphrase one instance of her shared advice with someone she's just met: going through rehab will be hard but you will want to be a better person so you'll be able to do it), and the exchanges sometimes feel unlikely, maybe because of their presentation as longish speeches. The sentiments and connections that are shared by doctor and patient are heartwarming, however.
I felt more that I was being told things about Harper's life than that she was allowing me into her story. She mentions a deep love affair but we don't see any vulnerability or moments shared, only the dissolution of the relationship because of stalking and threats from his ex-girlfriend.
Harper recounts her childhood with an abusive father and her journey toward finding her own peace. She manages some beautifully generous forgiveness separate from feeling any requirement for deep change from him, and she notes feeling "the freedom of knowing that another person's journey had little to do with my own." Forgiving his brokenness, she says, was "no big deal. And yet, it was everything."
Harper is appealingly centered and in touch with her feelings. She has many methods of grounding herself and finding peace--yoga, burning incense, meditation, healthy eating. She is a big proponent of complementary and alternative medicine (acupuncture resolved her allergies). Regarding finding her own peace and self-fulfillment in her life, despite its being somewhat at odds with where she'd once envisioned herself being at this point (she's had multiple job changes; she's on her own; she does not yet have children), Harper says with a refreshing liberation, "I, too, knew instinctively to stop fighting for my life and begin allowing it."
What did you think?
I do like a doctor's reflections on life and meaning and the tenuousness of existence.
Another doctor's memoir that came to mind as I read this book (a memoir that connects faith and science in a memoir that made me cry) was I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know by W. Lee Warren.