“What makes a virtuous and meaningful life?” Paul Kalanithi, asks in his last book, when as a neurosurgeon on the verge of completing his medical training he found himself dying at the age of thirty six, of stage IV lung cancer. As he poignantly chronicles in his book ‘When Breath Becomes Air,’ our lofty goals and plans lose meaning when all we wish for is one more day of perfect health in a body that is giving up on us.
To say that I myself have lived my life obsessed with death is an understatement. My own mother died at the age of thirty six. I lost the young man, who in my eyes epitomized perfection, in an unpopular war when he was only twenty four. A dear friend of mine was fatally shot during an altercation with another student, just one week before his college graduation.
Death is cruel at any age, but when it touches the young, it shakes us to the core. We question its fairness and its purpose.
Because of my profession, I have fought fiercely to save the life of some only to see them die anyway. All these deaths have weighed in heavily on my mind and soul. They have propelled me to find answers of the whys, and the whens, and the hows.
As a matter of fact just recently, I attended one of my patients’ funeral. I fought hard for more than a year to restore her to health, but at the end I watched my dear friend Judy lose her battle against the formidable enemy she faced so valiantly for so long.
But is it death truly an enemy or just a rite of passage?
In my opinion, none of us will escape it. No one will go before his or her time, regardless of how soon or late it comes. Not one of those living today, including those with dire diagnoses, know when and how we will go. Doctors who dare tell their patients a set date are only feigning to have control of an outcome no one has. I have seen patients unable to eat or drink anymore remain alive for weeks, and others fairly stable the night before not be there when my shift started the following morning.
So do we walk through life dreading leaving it? Do we give up experiencing and experimenting and loving and living because death is, and will ultimately be our final destination?
We will all die someday. Maybe not tomorrow but sometime in the future. For each of us it will be different. Maybe it will be a painful protracted death, or a quick one. Maybe it will be during a natural disaster, a freak accident, or after peacefully falling asleep. Perhaps we will go surrounded by those we love most and having had time to say our goodbyes, or not.
However and whenever we go, the question young doctor Kalanithi asked before he himself died is valid, “What makes a virtuous and meaningful life?”
I think it is when we live today with purpose and intent regardless of whether or not the end is near. I believe it is when we face our fears and go for the goal giving the best we have to give. I suppose it will bring more meaning to laugh at all the jokes, smell all the flowers, smile at everyone we encounter, and offer a helping hand to whoever we can day in and day out. Love is the virtue that will makes mourn when we lose a loved one, but it is also the anchor which will stop us from drowning in despair.
After all, each one of us is the recipient of a love so pure, so powerful, so eternal, so divine, that having tasted death on a Friday made Him rise on a Sunday for our benefit. As a wise man said before, “We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death-Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.” Joseph B. Whirthlin.
So before that Friday comes, let us all live as if Sunday is already here!
This is just my opinion…