The Controversy, The Conversation

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So, I recently got offered a job that I’ll be starting in a few weeks. For the last 16 months I’ve kind of been living a manic existence of personal and professional lows mixed with some personal and professional highs. An interesting mix of uncertainty and fear and hope and self-confidence that retreated at least double for every surge. Keeping myself optimistic became my full-time job in many ways. My consulting was fun, I loved the flexibility and ability to be present—both emotionally and physically—with people I cherish.

But the bottom line, as I was unable to make real inroads into a full-time job (despite the fact that I didn’t really want one and wasn’t trying my absolute hardest), I wasn’t attuned to how erosive it was to my psyche.

Long story short, when I stepped up my game and started trying my hardest, things began to change. Obvious lesson right there. There’s a tipping point somewhere in this emotional limbo. I’ve definitely got my professional mojo back, my professional confidence…my self-confidence is following on q bit of a lag, but it is indeed following. It’s reflected lately in the keen and aggressive interest I’ve taken in so back issues of The Atlantic. As a new subscriber last May, I was excited (awesome birthday gift!)…but tentative. I read the issues as they came, yet somehow not investing fully into my reading, as if somehow I wasn’t smart enough to read them. What? Not smart enough? But I am smart (although my mid-1980s SAT scores had me shy of automatic MENSA membership). But even so, I felt somehow intellectually unworthy and was unwilling to read the magazines with anything less than the attention they deserved, and as a result I’ve been ashamedly piling them up for maybe six months.

I just went away for a long weekend—I’m flying home as I type, in fact—and I just took a break from the third issue I’ve been engrossed in since I left home. I brought the magazines with me on the off chance that landing a job positively impacted my synapses. And what do you know? I’m reading with enthusiasm and interest. I’m looking things up, writing things down, adding books to buy to my Amazon wish list as well as my local library list. After this inadvertent but unavoidable intellectual hibernation, I can feel the rust coming off. I’m back. I’m considering what I read and am forming opinions. I’m assimilating what I read and processing it relative to the context of my life. I’m breaking down what I read as I attempt to understand new things in new ways. I actually feel my mind working, my horizons broadening, and good Jesus does it feel good.

Which is a lot of background, more than I typically provide to set up a blog post, but in my opinion I needed to give it, lest this post appear to come out of nowhere.

Anyway, I read an awesomely interesting and thought-provoking article on my flight out to MI last Thursday. It’s from the November 2014 issue, was written by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, and is titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” While I knew what I was reading was sure to be controversial to The Atlantic’s readership at large, it wasn’t controversial with me. Some topics, I don’t see them as absolutes. That’s not to say that I choose gray or am wishy-washy in any way, but rather I can see black and white, and sometimes the two look nice next to each other. They aren’t clashing colors, so why do we often treat black and white as opposites and not complements? I was interested to learn in the “bio” at the end of the article that the author is an oncologist, a fact which further influenced my interpretation of what I had just read.

I found myself referring to the article over the weekend, in conversation with my sister relative to the recent (seven months ago) and premature (in my opinion, one that I know is shared by many others) death of my father. And that was really all I thought about it over the weekend, as my time was consumed with my nieces and visiting and eating out and trying to track down a limited release beer I was dying to try, one that was available only in March and in Michigan. (I found it, blanched at the price ($14.99 for a bomber), remembered I would soon have income, bought two bottles, and proceeded to enjoy them immensely with my brother-in-law).

Then I sat down to breakfast at The National Coney Island in the Delta terminal at DTW this morning, picked the December issue out of my backpack, and saw an over-populated Conversation section, with wildly varying reader responses to the piece. I read these with at least as much interest as I had read the instigating article; I was both amazed and enthralled by how well the letters were written, respected the conviction and passion with which people expressed and defended their positions, and felt rewarded when I was able to read a rebuttal by the article’s author.

As I considered all the angles and opinions and scenarios, it boils down kind of simply for me: each of us is unique. We each possess a seemingly infinite combination of uniques traits and circumstances and experiences and opinions, all of which inform our unique viewpoint and goals and approaches and define our personal platform. We are all allowed to have our opinions and views. We should remain open to the opinions and views of others. We should reserve the right to change our minds. We should not judge those with whom we disagree. I love the lively dialog that comes from healthy opposition, manifested in an intellectual kind of competition. Opposing views don’t change anything for me, unless I allow myself to be enlightened by them.

But here I am now, still thinking about this particular issue, and I consider the circumstances of my life, my own experiences. My unsolicited advice is that different people want different things, and people we love might not want for themselves what we want for them. This highlights the importance of taking time to have The Conversation. The appropriate time to have it often masquerades as an inappropriate time. Beyond that, it’s uncomfortable, so people sometimes back away from it. But one regret in life you don’t want to have is not having The Conversation with people you love.

There are plenty of resources out there. A noteworthy website is The Conversation Project, and an equally noteworthy book is The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan For End-of-Life Care.

It may seem maudlin or awkward or whatever. But taking time to think about this, articulate and document your wishes, and encourage those you love to articulate and document theirs is a real gift of love you can give each other.

If this is the kind of dialogue that results from Dr. Emanuel’s piece, then his work is a resounding success, regardless of the hearty debate that happens along the way.

So go. Have The Conversation. Or at least think about it. Do something.  You’ll be glad you did.

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