A Summer Without Regret

Written by

August 31, 2015

The summer is ending soon and students in our area have begun to be back to school.  Last Sunday, in The New York Times, I read “The Summer that Never Was” from Tim Kreider and, like him, I felt a subtle sense of melancholy.  There are so many places in the world to explore, yet so little time for us to do so.  Like Kreider, late August for me is “entangled with the existential panic of aging.”  Toward the end of his essay, Kreider suspected that the way he felt about the end of the summer will be the way he will feel at the end of his life, with some regrets, as he will wonder if he has accomplished all he wanted to, just to realize that the life he had was the one he chose.  I suspect most of us would act like Kreider at the end of our life.

To find peace at the end of life or during a crisis, however, it might be better for us to be like President Carter.  As many of you know, President Carter recently announced how he was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, with the cancer now having spread to his brain.  He was calm and composed, looking relaxed.  He shared that he was grateful for the past and hopeful for the future.  He was able to look at the totality of his life and realized no matter how the end may be, he had lived a meaningful and blessed life. 

Being grateful, as Sarah Kaufman reminded her readers in her Washington Post essay about President Carter, is an important and helpful trait in times of crisis.  Many studies have shown grateful people live a more healthy and happy life. 

Last week, I was called into the hospital at 2 A.M. for a laboring patient.  I was irritated because I was tired.  It had been a long day in the office the day before, and I couldn’t go to bed soon enough with all my other tasks.  I was barely asleep before that phone call.

As usual, I turned on the radio to keep me awake during the ride to the hospital.  The roads were quiet, the moon was high, and the air was so still I noticed that none of the leaves seemed to move on the big trees lining the streets around me.  On NPR, the BBC news was about the problems of migrants in Europe.  There were so many migrants reaching the shores of Greece that day.

Suddenly, I heard the voice of a young gentleman who was being interviewed by the BBC.  His English was good and articulate.  He was a medical student from Syria who was among the migrants reaching Greece that day.  He politely apologized through the reporter to the Greek people, gently told them how he had to leave his country, that he had no choice with the war and harsh conditions around him.  He couldn’t survive there anymore and hope the Greek people would forgive him and his fellow migrants for the “temporary inconvenience” they have caused.

I was grateful to that young medical student.  His brief interview really reminded me of the realities of my blessed life.  His life was greatly interrupted because of the horrible circumstances around him.  He might never become a physician in the new land. He probably had no idea where he would be the next day, next month, next year.  He probably wished there would be a day when he would be called into the hospital, like me, to take care of a patient in the middle of the night.

At least, this medical student reached Greece alive, not like the 51 migrants who were found dead in a truck in Austria.  Those tragic migrants never even had a chance to be free to start a new life.  When you look around in times of crisis, there’s always someone who wishes he or she was in your shoes, having a “blessed” life.  I know I am living a blessed life when the death of a baby Panda in the zoo made the front page of the Washington Post’s metro section while, in the same issue, the death of 51 migrants was reported in a tiny column in the world news section.  Peace allows us to avoid many crises that otherwise would have interrupted our lives.

It’s natural to wish we could live a life without crisis.  It’s wise, however, to realize there’s no such life.  Crisis will arrive at some point in our life.  The wise one, like President Carter, will step back and look at his life in totality, at what he has, friends, families, all the wonderful tasks he accomplished for others, and marvel at how fortunate he was to have such a wonderful life.  Another year, another month of good health, from that point forward, would be a bonus.