Perspective is Everything

I’m reading Anticancer by Dr David Servan-Schreiber again. I found the following section quite profound. Since I’ve started employing this mindset, things have dramatically changed in the way my days (and evenings/nights even!) unfold. The dark thoughts I sometimes have (as I guess most of us do at times) still arise, but now I turn them around to see all angles, regard them anew so that they don’t take root.

Maybe this excerpt will hold some meaning for you too.

Eyes Opened
Cancer sometimes cures this strange nearsightedness, this dance of hesitations. By exposing life’s brevity, a diagnosis of cancer can restore life’s true flavour. A few weeks after my diagnosis, I had the odd feeling a veil had been lifted that until then had dimmed my sight. One Sunday afternoon, in the small sunny room of our tiny house, I was looking at Anna. Focused and peaceful, she was sitting on the floor near the coffee table, trying her hand at translating French poems into English. For the first time, I saw her as she was, without wondering whether I should prefer someone else. I simply saw the lock of hair that slipped gracefully forward when she leaned her head on her book, the delicacy of her fingers gently grasping the pen. I was surprised that I had never noticed how touching the slightest contractions of her jaw could be when she had trouble finding the word she was looking for. I suddenly saw her as herself, apart from my questions and doubts. Her presence became incredibly moving. Simply being allowed to witness that moment came to me as an immense privilege. Why hadn’t I seen her that way before?

In his book on the transforming power of approaching death, Irvin Yalom an eminent psychiatrist at Standford University, quotes a letter written by a senator in the early sixties, shortly after he had been told he had a very serious cancer.

“A change came over me which I believe is irreversible. Questions of prestige, of political success, of financial status, became all at once unimportant. In those first hours when I realized I had cancer, I had never thought of my seat in the Senate, of my bank account, or of the destiny of the free world. My wife and I have not had a quarrel since my illness was diagnosed. I used to scold he about squeezing the toothpaste from the top instead of the bottom, about not catering sufficiently to my fussy appetite, about making up guest lists without consulting me, about spending too much on clothes. Now I am either unaware of such matters, or they seem irrelevant…

In their stead has come a new appreciation of things I once took for granted – eating lunch with a friend, scratching Muffet’s ears and listening to her purr, the company of my wife, or reading a book or magazine in the quiet cone of my bed lamp at night. For the first time I think I am actually savoring life. I shudder when I remember all the occasions that I spoiled myself – even when I was in the best of health – by false pride, synthetic values and fancied slights.”

Thus the approach of death can sometimes lead to a kind of liberation. In it’s shadow, life suddenly takes on an intensity resonance and savour we may never have known before. Of course, when the time comes, we feel the despair of leaving life behind, much as we would in saying farewell to someone we loved, knowing we would never see them again. Most of us dread that sadness, But in the end, wouldn’t it be worse to leave without having tasted of life’s full flavour? Wouldn’t it be far worse to have no reason to be sad at that moment of parting.

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One thought on “Perspective is Everything

  1. We all could do with a reboot every six months or so. Life becomes sadly grooved and frustratingly meaningless in a rigid frame. One does not notice the defragmentation of the mind and general self until there is a breakdown. Our culture needs an adjustment in this regard. Thanks for encouraging people to reset themselves, it could only make the world a better place to be in. And an easier one to leave to others when we go.

    Liked by 1 person

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