Around a month ago, I met a man from Lubbock, Texas, outside the Cook Out on Hillsborough Road.
This impromptu encounter took place after Duke’s disappointing loss to Miami, ruining the Blue Devils’ chances at an undefeated ACC slate in Coach K’s last season. Earlier that evening, I’d arrived outside Cameron Indoor Stadium three hours before tipoff in hopes of getting a good spot. I walked past the undergrad walk-up line in Krzyzewskiville toward the grad student area behind Cameron, trading the upbeat tunes of “Rather Be” and “Body” playing in K-Ville for the pops and cracks of grad students’ joints as more people slowly joined the line.
The wind chill dipped into the 20s, and there was some grousing about the temperature, but after a little over an hour passed, the doors opened and we finally headed in to claim front-row spots. Despite classes being virtual for the next week, the student sections were packed and the energy was high. That wasn’t enough for Duke to pull out the win though, and the crowd sulked out back into the cold.
Some people in my group decided to head to Cook Out afterward to drown our sorrows in hushpuppies and milkshakes. After seeing the long line of cars snaking around the drive-thru, we decided to take our chances with hypothermia once again and get out of the car to order from the window. Now, you never know who you’ll run into around the Cook Out window—sometimes it’s the parents of a basketball player on the opposing team, sometimes it’s Joe Biden. But this time, it was the man from Lubbock.
We started chatting with him and found out that he was, as his name suggests, from Lubbock. He’d given his elder son the chance to pick out something fun to do for his 12th birthday, and his choice was to attend a Duke basketball game. They didn’t have any particularly strong connection to Duke or the Carolinas, but it was the allure of Blue Devil basketball that had driven his son and the rest of the family to fly to Durham. I was expecting him to mention something about the loss to Miami souring the trip, but to my surprise, he didn’t seem to care. I was struck by his enthusiasm and excitement for the game and atmosphere of Cameron. He kept raving about the environment and energy, and it was clear how special and memorable of a moment this would be for both the man from Lubbock and his son—what was just another Duke basketball game for me was an unparalleled experience for him.
I have to confess that sometimes I’ve been a bit skeptical about gratitude journals. When I started one last year, I began with generic entries like “I’m grateful for friends” or “I’m grateful for family,” which as true as those are, made the exercise seem pointlessly saccharine when offered without elaboration. The value in acknowledging those often-overlooked aspects of life, I’ve found, is magnified when you focus on the specifics. Maybe it’s a note your mom sent you in the mail, maybe it’s a kind gesture from a friend, maybe it’s a man from Lubbock reminding you just how amazing it is to stroll into one of the most legendary stadiums in the country whenever you feel like it.
There’s a man from Lubbock for everything in our lives—not in the literal sense, given that Lubbock’s population hovers around 250,000, but in the symbolic sense. For many of the opportunities we perfunctorily partake in every day, there’s someone else who would kill for those experiences. Sometimes it can be tempting to feel jaded as a medical student when I’m huddled over a computer in the evening memorizing the difference between Niemann-Pick disease type C and types A or B. But when I do a Zoom tour or social hour for applicants to Duke’s School of Medicine, I’m reminded of how many people—in the middle of a stressful med school application season—would be grateful to be in my place. And as cheesy as it sounds, whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed, returning to that fact seems to make things all the more manageable.
I’ve also found myself thinking of the man from Lubbock when I walked into Cameron for the North Carolina State game, then the Syracuse game, then the Clemson game. It always makes me feel a bit more excited to be there. And when I get inside, I look around the rafters and wonder who else, like the man from Lubbock, might be experiencing that joy for the first time.
Nathan Luzum is a first-year medical student. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.