RANGER AGAINST WAR: Out on the OP -LP: Grace Under Fire <

Monday, February 11, 2013

Out on the OP -LP: Grace Under Fire

--Oscar Wilde

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'   
--John Greenleaf Whittier  

[ed. note: Apologies for not having our OP -LP feature up on Sunday. I had no connectivity, so today we will have two posts up.]
Everyone likes a feel-good story, especially when it comes on a deathbed.  Today the story of the New York doctor writing the deceased lady's family -- his first personal letter as a doctor in 20 years of practice -- is that story (Man Receives Touching Letter from ER Room Doctor.)

Surprising were the almost universal comments praising the doctor (who did a fine thing in the writing), but almost none recognizing the excellence of the woman who prompted the letter. The male doctor, son and husband were all praised, but what of the generosity and grace embodied by the woman herself?

Her example shows us the possibility of elevating our life condition at any time.  Minimally, one should endeavor to not be a burden in this life, to not carp and whinge.

The things military men seem most proud of and the things they most regret seem to hinge around the idea of the small human kindness: They are proud of small human connections made during times of duress; they are burdened by protest never made to stop a brutality, worse, by a brutality they themselves may have committed. Always what is regretted is the thing undone.

My mother once related the story of a note she received many years ago from a young mother who had shared the same hospital room with her mother (my grandmother).  My grandmother was dying, but she apparently took the time to counsel this young and afraid unwed mother in a NYC hospital room.  Her care made such an impact on the young woman that she took the time to discover how to mail a letter to my mother (who was unfortunately not in town at the time), to share how much her mother's attention meant to her. 

Last year I wrote a "thank-you" letter to the surgeon who saved my life many years ago.  It seemed important to thank him for both his skill and his discretion, which allowed me to go on and live the life of an average teenager.  If Dr. Unanue had taken a lazier route during his exploratory, and "cut me stem-to-stern" -- as the nurses said another doctor had done to another woman in the ward the same day as me -- my life would have been different.  

On our final post-op, the doctor took me in his office and chatted with me.  I remember only that he said he had "lost me" on the operating table several times, and he bade me, "live a good life" -- a decidedly un-doctorly directive I have never forgotten.

Dr. Unanue had retired but his office kindly forwarded my note.  His handwritten response was humble and appreciative: "It takes a long time to become a doctor, and one hopes that one may do good."

What can each of us do to raise the level of our daily interactions just a little -- to be a pleasure, and not a burden?  We are, most of us, so wrapped up in our petty trails and tribulations, "Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go," as Nazi protestor Sophie Schall said on her way to being executed.  Such a fine day each one of us has, and even when facing the executioner, why lose our dignity and resolve?

Have you gone out of your way to lighten the other's burden? How did it affect you? Can you share your story?

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