July 06, 2015

Paul Kalanithi And Mortality

When do we learn to accept our mortality? At 60? At 20? Perhaps never. When should we?

Perhaps mot people never accept their mortality — certainly not before the time comes when you start seeing your contemporaries fall off.

Realizing that you are mortal at 60 or 70 may be a good thing. It perhaps makes people more mellow and more congenial, less abrasive, less aggressive.

If one could reach that realization earlier, it might make us better human beings.

Perhaps religion plays a role in how and when people come to terms with their mortality. For me, my idea of mortality and what lessons to learn have to all come from exceptional individuals who lived and died exemplary lives.

Learning you have an incurable disease when you are in your 30s has got to be one of the toughest things one can face in life. Perhaps after years and decades of effort, you are close to achieving some important life goal, some important professional milestone in your mid-30s but then suddenly you are told that you've to say goodbye to it all; you have to go.

"The party will go on without you," as Hitch put it once.

That's what Dr. Paul Kalanithi faced and with what courage and dignity. No words from me can capture his generosity of spirit. In his own words:

Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.

And he writes to his daughter:

When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Well, what would you do if you were diagnosed with metastatic cancer when you are 36.

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