Critic at Large: Lines recalled may hold lessons about life

Three weeks ago, I was not in a good place, preparing for brain-tumor surgery. Involuntarily, lines

Three weeks ago, I was not in a good place, preparing for brain-tumor surgery. Involuntarily, lines from literature began seeping into my mind: Milton’s “They also serve who only stand and wait” or Shakespeare’s “Bare, ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.” That was how I was perceiving my state of mind, my will, and my disposition.

I thought of Graham Greene’s “Whiskey Priest” and his surrender to the cardinal sin of despair, and from there, a pause to a character in “Spoon River Anthology,” who said, if I recall correctly, something like, “Life is too strong for you — It takes life to love Life.”

And here I was in Boston with the gift of life and love: Children, grandchildren, friends, some of whom I had not heard from for decades. Readers wrote in with kind, encouraging words. I could tell: they came from the heart, and I cannot begin to tell you how they lifted my spirits. And of course, the prayers. I may not be a religious kind of guy, but I believe in the power of unselfish prayer.

And then, along came my surgeon, who, I was told, was one of the best in the world. He’d stop by, sometimes at midnight, and we would chat about movies and music; the guy about to cut chunks from my brain informed me that he had Googled me and read some of my stuff. We chatted about kids and education, and I was struck by a thought that left me sad.

He said that since it was easier to make lots of loot with hedge funds and other business-oriented activities, the potentially great brain surgeon could profit more on Wall Street than by toiling for years preparing to save lives.

And I began to think of the hurried, frenetic ways we live ours, and that maybe with this economic downturn, someone was trying to tell us something about our rush to nowhere and that one result of this crisis might mean that some super-talented young man or woman would choose four extra years of residency instead of aiming for a superfluous condo on the Cape.

I cannot totally understand or explain it, but these thoughts, these musings took me to a different place. Family love, letters, e-mails and midnight chats with a surgeon. Kind of gets you to understand words like “It takes life to love life.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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