Studying doesn’t start well. My pathology book is open to a chapter on lymphomas. I try reading a page, but nothing sticks. The glossy pictures of swollen, diseased lymph nodes don’t help, nor do my various brightly colored highlighters. It’s tough because the nature of the material is gloomy and morbid, a complete antithesis to the sunny day outside. It’s disease after disease, ad infinitum. Abnormal cells, malignant lumps, blocked vessels, yellow skin, crusty ulcers and green discharge . It’s death and dying every day, all day, so much so that I feel like medical school robs me of my naive youth. All this mortality stuff should be reserved for old people, not young. It makes me want to burn my books. It makes me want to scream, drink, eat fattening foods, go to an amusement park and get a tattoo.
-Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair
It hadn’t occurred to me that my mother would die. Until she was dying, the thought had never entered my mind. She was monolithic and insurmountable, the keeper of my life. She would grow old and still work in the garden. This image was fixed in my mind, like one of the memories from her childhood that I’d made her explain so intricately that I remembered it as if it were mine. She would be old and beautiful like the black-and-white photo of Georgia O’Keeffe I’d once sent her. I held fast to this image for the first couple of weeks after we left the Mayo Clinic, and then, once she was admitted to the hospice wing of the hospital in Duluth, that image unfurled, gave way to others, more modest and true.
–Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
‘How shall I put it, to a brain so much smaller and less clever than mine… The thing is, we are all, in a sense, supper. Walking, talking, breathing suppers, that’s what we are. Take you, for instance. YOU are about to be eaten by ME, so that makes you supper. That’s obvious. But even a murderous carnivore like myself will be a supper for worms one day. We’re all snatching precious moments from the peaceful jaws of time,’ said the Dragon cheerfully. ‘That’s why it’s so important,’ he continued, ‘for the supper to sing as beautifully as it can.’
“That’s what I believe. I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it—or my observation of it—is temporary?”
“I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to be noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us—not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals.”
“Richard told a story about his college roommate’s father, who was, he said, “the real thing, an honest-to-God cowboy.” He was in his sixties when he learned he had potentially fatal cancer. “Now that I think about, he was probably about my age,” Richard said, a little startled that time was passing so quickly. The “old” cowboy rode out into the desert and shot his horse and then himself.”
“Chip reminded everyone of the white-haired carpenter who’d made our children’s dressers and toy chest. Clarence took his life for the same reason the cowboy did. He had cancer and didn’t want to go the hospital, or be dependent on anyone. He had lived by himself a long time. Well, almost by himself: “I think he shot his dog, too,” Chip said.”
“It’s easy to applaud the old cowboy, because he’s not your father or husband or son. The truth is, there aren’t many real cowboys left.”
–If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende