Lay Preachers

by Lizbeth De Selm


When people ask me what I do for a living, I look them in the eye, all serious like and tell them, "I make drugs." No elaboration initially. Then I wait and watch their response, usually with a mischievous grin developing. At this point I explain my job.

In case you haven't been on the receiving end of this discussion, I should probably explain: For you knowledgeable about very early drug discovery, I am a medicinal chemist. I use synthetic organic chemistry to make small molecules that we test first in enzymes, then in cells. If we are lucky, we then test the molecules in tumors, and if we are really lucky, we get to test in humans. If we are astronomically lucky, we get to actually release them to market, helping patients everywhere. Theoretically.

For those of you are don't know the ins and outs of drug development, let me use more conventional terms. Let me explain it to you this way. I make really super complex ‘keys' (molecules) (often from scratch) with the hopes that I'll be able to fit my key into the lock we are targeting. The lock is the enzyme. We are usually looking to ‘gum up' the lock- that is, block it and render it useless for a short duration. The idea is if we stop the lock from turning, then we stop the disease.

It sounds like a really neat job. ‘Sounds' being the ‘key' word here. You see, I make maybe about 100 molecules (keys) each year. If I am lucky, one out of one thousand molecules (keys) that I make, may actually enter into clinical development- which is another, perhaps more sterile way of saying we test it in humans. If I am really lucky, one of my molecules, out of ten thousand, might actually make it out of clinical trials and into the sick patients. Everywhere. Theoretically.

So statistically speaking, 99% of my work is destined for failure, and of that remaining 1%? Lets say 99% of that is still destined for failure. Talk about long odds.

I wonder at this point just how many of you are wondering what this has to do with today's Good News? Well... is it simple.

I don't connect well with idea that an indestructible foundation exists. Even the hardest of stones eventually grind down into pebbles. No, it just doesn't jive with my work and life experiences. I would have felt immensely better if it had read something to effect of "Be like the reeds; bend in the wind, but do not break." I have had to weather a good number of storms in my line of work, and bending without breaking has become something I have had to struggle with each and everyday of my professional life.

I can see however that there was a foundation, a rock that regardless how beaten and battered it was, it did not waiver. That foundation, and I can't lie, was a combination of hope, faith, and a desire to learn something I didn't know before.

Let's start with the easy one: A desire to learn something novel. I am after all a scientist. If I am not learning something new everyday, I am bored. I am on a constant quest to learn ‘how?' and ‘why?' and ‘when?' and ‘how often?'. By failing so much... well I turn it into success. Maybe you have heard the joke, "If you try to fail and succeed, which have you done?" Essentially, I make it my own little silver lining.

Silver linings are the great foundation upon which I build hope and faith. It is my hope that ultimately I satisfy my greater goal of helping patients heal. It is my faith that every step we take forward in research, we are one step closer to achieving that goal of helping patients heal. And you know, no matter how many of my ‘keys' fail to fit into the lock, fail to jam it, I know we have learned something about the lock.

This is not unlike my feelings about the future of St Paul's. In my opinion, it is our collective faith in each other as a loving, open faith-based community that gives me hope that we will succeed, and grow stronger as we wade through the unknown waters ahead.

It is all too easy to respond with challenges, tragedies, and failures with anger and sorrow; anger at God; anger at those around us; those who left us. Sorrow for loss; for change from what we knew; sorrow and anger combined for being pushed out of our comfort zone and into the unknown. We at St. Paul's have definitely been pushed out of our comfort zone this year. There has been much change over the last 5 months. Many have expressed anger and sorrow publicly. But I believe these challenges, and tragedies are the storms that the author of Mathew may alluded to, and while they definitely have potential to leave wreckage and destruction in their wake, we have faith in each other, if not in Jesus' teachings and God herself. We have hope in our future, hope with respects to the many opportunities and possibilities facing us wrt to a new rector and a reworked common use space. And as we move forward in this process, as we bend but not break, we learn something about ourselves, both individually and collectively, and I think, we have become stronger for the adversity.

So while Faith in God and Jesus's teachings may be the foundation that never erodes, I am a reed struggling to bend without breaking. Perhaps we are all reeds? And perhaps our roots are planted within that indestructible foundation.

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