segunda-feira, dezembro 14, 2015

Learning to live, every day

I don't remember where I read it, I think it was in the correspondence between Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren when, moruning the end of their love affair, she wrote something like: "Like van Gogh, who had to learn how to live without one ear, so will I have to learn to live without your love, without a part of me." It must have been better stated than this; anyway, even if it is not a particularly well chosen example - after all, van Gogh killed himself later, even if it probably wasn't because of lacking an ear - but somehow this image struck me and stuck in my mind ever since. Because at the time I felt it described exactly how I had felt after my wife's death - I had lost a part of myself, namely my future, the future I had planned / envisioned. Of course one can question why I wouldn't be able to plan another future later, nothing concrete stopped me, but I just couldn't, since then I have been living in the present; having children didn't change that, because their future was (is) theirs, not mine.

Lately, I've been thinking about this, although in another, more selfless, context. Every day I deal with old and sick people, who have to learn how to live without a part of themselves - or several, literally speaking, when they lose limbs for instance. But the part I have been thinking of is mostly their autonomy, their independence. That kind of problem happens more and more as people age - whether they get kidney disease and have to be on dialysis or they have a stroke and become physically or mentally impaired. Very often I'm confronted with people who suffer from those losses, and who ask "how shall I go on living? Is it worth it? Shouldn't I just die?". Well, eventually I think it's each person's choice. As a physician, I try to preserve life and alleviate suffering, as an - in spite of all - optimist, I try to make people value what remains, what they have left. And most of the times, apart from the most terrible and desperate cases where suffering is indeed unbearable and there's no hope of alleviating, when I agree the best is to let Nature have its due, there really is something worthwhile left. Be it family, or friends, or a hobby, or anything one enjoys. Because usually one can learn how to live without an ear, or a wife, or a limb, or one's former autonomy. It's mostly a question of adaptation, and most people are extremely resilient, much more than they would imagine, even in very dire circumstances.

Which brings me to another literary reminiscence, the poem by Susan Coolidge I always think of in my moments of optimism, as I said before, when I think that, whatever hardships one must endure, this life is the only one gets, so one may as well try to make the better of it while it lasts:

New Every Morning

Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning,
Troubles forecasted
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.

So, let's begin again.

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