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Day 125: Paul Kalanithi

In Dreams, English Major, Friendship, God, Happiness, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, life, literature, loss, Love, Meaning, People, Relationships, Teaching, Writing on September 20, 2016 at 11:51 pm

The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

In reading Paul Kalanithi’s story there are two quotes that stood out to me. One is listed above. While Paul is recounting his perceived role as a neurosurgeon, I think the poignant thing about that quote, is that you can change the words, and, in doing so, you will see something very beautiful:

The individual’s duty is not to stave off pain or return others to the position before they felt pain, but to take others into our arms, those whose lives have been disinegrated, and work until they stand back up and face, and make sense, of their own existence.

While Paul was most certainly a beautiful doctor in his lifetime, what I found most touching about his book was his ability to see (through the lens of his profession) the meaning behind living. The part of life that drives and perpetuates us, if we’re lucky. The precious ability we have to connect with others and enrich their lives through the experiences we make with them.

I have degrees in English literature. Paul did too. I have spent years disconnected from books, from authors that once touched me so deeply I felt a definitive passion to share their words with others and, hopefully, contribute to the world by helping their ideas, failures and successes to live on. My life got in the way though, and I lost that passion, I quit reading, I quit writing and I chalked up the time spent in academia as a waste. What I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d learn from reading this book, a book about a neurosurgeon’s life, is that what I’d studied, and how I felt about it, and how I can still feel about it, is meaningful. You can bring that passion, that meaning, to other aspects of your life, just as Paul had done. He was a neurosurgeon, but he was also a lover of Dickenson poetry and Emerson’s Leaves of Grass and Eliot’s The Wasteland. He found a way to beautifully intertwine his passion for works and authors such as the above with his equal, but different, passion for medicine and the brain. In fact, I believe, the two were codependent in his life. He was such a great physician because he had read the words of the grieving, of the loving, those who struggled to understand their own mind, such as Hemingway, and thus with these literary experiences he was able to further understand the element of humanity that must be present for a great physician to exist. He understood, like he states above, that he wasn’t God, his role wasn’t to stave off death, but to show those patients he encountered, how to live, how to love, how to grieve, how to be supported, how to find meaning – all things he learned, and, eventually, put down into a book of his own. 

This idea leads to my second favorite quote of the book, when he and his wife Lucy discuss the idea of having a child after his cancer diagnosis:

Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

Life isn’t about avoiding suffering, it’s about fully living which includes suffering. When we read literature, some of the greatest works, or, on a personal note, some of the works that have touched me most, it’s been the books, the poems, the historical recounts of people that suffered, that experienced something that hurt them and then took the time to write about it. Those are the ones that make you see life differently, those are the ones that remind you what living is really about. This is a subtle reminder that hardship is beautiful and to avoid it would equate to a flat life. A life absent of deep seated meaning. 

Paul’s book is one that will leave you in tears, but in a good way. What struck me most about this book was, oddly enough, the cover of it (I am oftentimes drawn to book covers and their hidden messages). 

Paul was a leading neurosurgeon at Stanford University. He was up and coming and he was a “great” doctor. I thought of my own grandfather who passed away just last year. I remember visiting him in his hospital room before he had lost the ability to communicate. He was a surgeon, not a neurosurgeon, but he lived his life in the same professional circle as Paul. I remember distinctly looking at the white board in his room, the one where his name and conditions were listed alongside his current medications and their dosing, it read: “Dr.” with my grandfather’s first and last name following. Each time a nurse would enter the room, he’d emphatically remind him or her that he was indeed a doctor, a surgeon, and that they should refer to him that way. He’d go on to let them know the years he’d spent in the operating room as if it somehow mattered while he lay in bed dying. Perhaps it did, perhaps it brought him meaning, but what this story is meant to point out is what’s written on the front of Paul’s book, a memoir of his life, is just his name – no lofty Dr. title preceding it. Just Paul Kalanithi, that’s it. Surely, someone who spends years of their life training to be a physician, a neurosurgeon, didn’t leave that title off by mistake or as an oversight (my own grandfather taught me that). Perhaps though, Dr. is omitted because Paul saw himself as more than just that. In reading his book, I think it’s quite apparent he did. 

When there is no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

A whit.

Daily Cupcake: Blogs I Love

In Blogging, Blogs, Health, Holstee Manifesto, Monavie, Teaching on February 21, 2013 at 11:42 pm

“A More Meaningful Life,” when I read that phrase on the Monavie shipment I received just yesterday it reminded me of the Holstee Manifesto–the importance of living a fulfilled and truly lived life. Happiness is a choice that we choose as I am reminded. It’s that knowledge that in good and bad there is always hope and there is always a driven purpose behind everything that happens in our lives.

When things are good, it’s easy to forget, forget why the seemingly bad happens, and why it is so pertinent to our development in this life.

It’s so easy to forget that we find happiness in hardship. It’s so easy to forget that our ability to love stems, sometimes, from its absence.

We can only know good from being able to distinguish what is good–that requires knowing sad, lonely, hardship–through all of these experiences we find meaning.  We find who we are and we learn to define ourselves.

We create something while we’re living here on this earth, we create the meaningful life.

Or we don’t…it’s a choice. How lucky we are to have free will. How lucky we are that our life is not deterministic, at least in a cognitive sense.

Choose the good life. It seems fitting to look at this awesome blog.

Monavie!

And if your interested in ordering Monavie, my website can be seen HERE.

HOLSTEE AUGUST: Remember to Love Because It’s What Makes You Real

In Books, Esteem, Friendship, Happiness, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, Laughter, life, Love, Teaching, Thoughts, Writing on August 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Love is such an interesting emotion, it’s one of the things that makes me feel vulnerable, but being loved is truly what makes us real–just like the Skin Horse says. It doesn’t happen to people who break easily because love takes toughness, endurance, and perseverance. Love is not like the romance film, it’s much more real than that, and I oftentimes wonder if the people in this world, the ones who truly know how to love, are only those who have endured an entire lifetime giving it to someone. I think it just might take those loose joints, lost hair, and shabbiness to truly understand what it means to love. Perhaps that’s why we’re given an entire lifetime to pursue it, perfect it, and understand it.

In looking through the Holstee Manifesto and it’s proclamations, which we have now made it through in entirety, the only words that appear more than once throughout are: life and love. This provokes something in me, it reminds me of the importance of living a life of sought love. That’s what the manifesto begs. It’s not easy, it will hurt at times, but it’s like this quote states:

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HOLSTEE JULY: How I Seized Life Through An Air Freshener

In Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, Laughter, life, Love, Men, Romance, Teaching, wit, Women on August 1, 2012 at 8:14 am

We’ve almost made it through the Manifesto. Sad but true.

Anyway, I was trying to figure out how to fit the following experience into one of the last left proclamations–attempting to create a moment of inspiration. We’ll see how it goes.

This last week my boyfriend stayed at my house (he works away mostly and it seemed better than him renting a hotel for the short duration of him being back in town).  He decided to get me a gift, one to say thank you for putting up with me, my dirty feet, protein powder spillage, and changing my 3 year-old’s diaper blowout.  Mostly though, he wanted to say thank you for letting him use my bathroom for his ‘starbuck’s special’ as he has entitled them.

His gift was very thoughtful given the aforementioned.

He brings in the Target bag, and pulls out whatever else he has purchased, then leaning towards me as he is simultaneously pulling my gift out of the bag too says, “here, I got this for you. I thought about getting you a couple new soap dispensers (since I cracked both of mine in my move) but I forgot to hit that aisle.  Then he proceeds to hand me an AirWick Limited Edition Air Freshener (OK, it was a little fancier but this is funnier).  I was taken aback, I immediately hugged him and thanked him as he set it up over the toilet (I have since moved it to the bedroom now that he is no longer using my loo for his starbuck’s specials).  He was proud, very proud.

I thought long and hard about this gift.  It really was very thoughtful seeing as he uses the toilet 2, sometimes 3 times per day.  In his mind, he really did have my best interest at heart (or he just couldn’t find the soap dispenser aisle).

So, back to the manifesto: SOME OPPORTUNITIES ONLY COME ONCE, SEIZE THEM.

Seize every moment, whether it’s what you expect or not–just like I did as I was handed a target bag with an aromatic device.  It was really more than an airwick, it was an opportunity for compassion and thoughtfulness.  It’s a smell I cherish now that he’s gone–I love it because it reminds me of a moment, an opportunity, that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

a chicken whit.

HOLSTEE JULY: emotions

In Happiness, Holstee Manifesto, Thoughts on July 20, 2012 at 5:06 am

ALL EMOTIONS ARE BEAUTIFUL.

Sometimes life is hard and that hardship brings sadness, disappointment, confusion, uncertainty, hurt, loneliness. It’s important, though, to remember that all of these emotions, too, are beautiful.

I’m very happy, but I still feel these other emotions time and again. They only reinforce though that I am still strong and I can endure despite them.

I put this over my bed in my room because I think it is so important to remember, and someday when I’m 90, I know it will be the little things that I’ll want to reflect on and they will bring me the most joy in their memory.

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Daily Cupcake: Holstee July LOVE.

In Holstee Manifesto, Laughter, life, Love, Men, Romance, Thoughts, Women, Writing on July 15, 2012 at 8:13 am

If you’re looking for the love of your life, STOP. You will find them when you start doing things you LOVE.

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HOLSTEE JULY: If You Don’t Like Something…

In Blogging, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, Humor on July 9, 2012 at 2:28 am

So today’s cupcake is brought to you by my new favorite site that I found randomly on Pinterest.  This place literally teaches you how to decorate your home with junk…literally…you can make adorable things with toilet paper rolls.

I remember awhile back visiting my friend’s house and she had a BEAUTIFUL wreath on her wall that looked as if she had spent hundreds of dollars on it.  She goes, “Oh no, I’m poor, I’m paying back law school loans.  I’ve just learned how to make decorations out of trash.” What she had done is picked up some old sheet music at a thrift store, and rolled it, then glued it into a massive piece of wall art.  Pretty clever, my guess is that she had already found this site.

check it out. So, IF YOU DON’T LIKE SOMETHING, CHANGE IT. Plus now I figure I’ve found some viable crafts for grandma (see this post) I’m putting her to work!

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HOLSTEE JULY: Going to Lunch With Grandma

In Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, Laughter, life, Thoughts on July 2, 2012 at 2:03 am

Hello HOLSTEE July, honestly, I should have just extended this thing throughout the entire year.

LIFE IS SIMPLE.

Today I took my grandma to lunch. She’s a very funny lady (although I don’t think she knows this herself).  We were talking a lot about what it’s like to, basically, sit on your ass and have nothing to do. Then with all sincerity she looked right at me and said that she is going to get some clay and start sculpting a statue of the dog. She said she’d do one of Ini too if I’d like it for my mantle.

Yep.

A smile immediately spread across my face. As we grow older it’s amazing how much simpler life gets. Apparently so much so, you begin to think up things like casting household pets.

But really, as I dropped off grandma and begin to pull out of the driveway I was thinking a lot about my life.  I was thinking how busy I am and how sometimes I wish things were so much simpler than they are.  I was thinking about what it must be like to be old, eyesight fading, health declining, and to not be able to do the simple things that lead to all the complicated things that make life exciting and enjoyable. What would it be like not to be able to just jump in the car and go where you want to go? What would it be like not to be able to take a run because your joints disallow it? What would it be like not to be able to get your nails done because there is no one to take you?  It would suck.  So, I am so thankful for my youth and I am so thankful for being able to do the simple things that give me the opportunities to do all the rest–the messy, complicated, tiring rest.

On Tuesday, grandma and I are going to get her clay and paints so she can start her masterpiece of Smokey the dog (and possibly Ini).  I’m sure they’ll both appreciate the simple gesture.

HOLSTEE JUNE: OPEN YOUR MIND, ARMS, AND HEART TO NEW THINGS AND PEOPLE

In Beauty, Books, Fiction, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, life, literature, Men, Thoughts, Women, Writing on June 30, 2012 at 4:13 am

This book kind of pisses me off, kind of.  Anyway, you should read it, if not for anything else then at least for the controversy surrounding it.  I guess the guy James, who coincidentally reminded me of an alcoholic I once dated also named James, made up parts of the entire non-fiction memoir.  He got baited by Oprah (poor guy–not really).  And the funniest part of it all, after a heated law suit it was determined by the publisher that readers could get a full refund of the book by presenting their original receipt, and a ripped out page 165 (in some basement somewhere there’s a HUGE ripped out pile of Frey’s page 165s–or maybe he wanted them back personally), with a signed affidavit that they we’re essentially ‘scarred’ by the intentional misleading facts within the book.  If you did that, you are crazier than the author.

Like any good author though, Frey said that he did feel the facts within the book were ‘true’ for him because that’s how he felt or acted in his own mind, essentially he related his perceived persona versus factual experiences–coo koo AND brilliant (I bet his publisher thought up that one after consulting a literary theorist at Yale).

All of that said, there are parts of this novel that really resonated with me, I even shed a tear or two by the end (which I never would have imagined). Like this one,

If you understand that all things change constantly, there is nothing that you will hold on to, all things change….Trying to control the future is like trying to take the place of the Master Carpenter.  When you handle the Master Carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand….Knowing other people is intelligence, knowing yourself is wisdom.  Mastering other people is strength, mastering yourself is power.  If you realize that what you have is enough, you are rich truly rich.  Stay in the center and embrace peace, simplicity, patience and compassion.

If you want to shrink something, you must first expand it.  If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.  If you want to take something, you must allow it to be given.  The soft will overcome the hard.  The slow will beat the fast.  Don’t tell people the way, just show them the results.

As James learns to embrace these principals, he begins to heal.  He’s an addict, I am not.  I’ve known addicts, though. One thing you learn from the novel, the most important thing I would argue, is that we all have a piece of addict within us.  Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

The Manifesto says, OPEN YOUR MIND, ARMS, AND HEART TO NEW THINGS AND PEOPLE.

James meets a girl in rehab, Lilly, he loves her very much.  When she is scared or alone, he tells her, “Remember the word Ever.” Ever means always, he means to tell her that he will always love her but I think it means more than that too.  It references this earlier continuum of life, throughout life we must EVER open our souls to the people and things that are around us.  It is in this that the Million Little Pieces come together to make something whole–love.  Love is being whole.

HOLSTEE MAY: Fat Skinny Me

In Diet, Exercise, Health, Holstee Manifesto, Running on May 29, 2012 at 8:47 pm

I have done a horrible job with HOLSTEE May so…looks like we might be having a HOLSTEE June too.

Today’s daily:

WHEN YOU EAT, APPRECIATE EVERY LAST BITE.

As I’ve begun to approach the big 30 mark I’ve noticed quite the change, especially in my thighs.  Yikes.  Then my sis told me about something called fat skinny (or skinny fat).  I thought, that’s me!  I guess you’re wondering how a hundred pound girl can rock the jellylite, well, turns out it is possible.  So, I am trying to reverse this ASAP. I was wondering why all the clothes I’ve tried on in the last few months have looked awful…I kept chalking it up to bad spring fashions. Nope, it’s actually just my butt.

So, I’m on a new “diet” and running/workout regimen.  I’m hoping I can make a 360 in a years time.  Say a little prayer for me!

Anyway, I am appreciating my Odwalla bars, and steamed broccoli, and chicken.  very much.

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