“You that seek what life is in death,
Now find it air that once was breath.
New names unknown, old names gone:
Till time end bodies, but souls none.
Reader! then make time, while you be,
But steps to your eternity.
`Baron Brook Fulke Greville, ‘Caelica 83′”-loc 43
“What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain….T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land resonated profoundly, relating meaninglessness and isolation, and the desperate quest for human connection. I found Eliot’s metaphors leaking into my own language. Other authors resonated as well. Nabokov, for his hypertuned sense of how miscommunication between people can so profoundly impact their lives. Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believe, the richest material for moral reflection.”-loc 368
“Suddenly, now, I know what I want. I want the counselors to build a pyre.. and let my ashes drop and mingle with the sand. Lose my bones amongst the driftwood, my teeth amongst the sand… I don’t believe in the wisdom of children, nor in the wisdom of the old. There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”- loc 403
“A word means something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationship we form.”-loc 443
“I was also increasingly certain that I had little desire to continue in literary studies, whose main preoccupations had begun to strike me as overly political and averse to science.”- loc 453 [I wonder if this is what all lit majored students think.]
“Where did biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersected?”-loc 460 [I also have the same question but the author didn’t seems giving an answer in this book. neuroscience is about the first two, and the narration of feelings and events and emotions is about the latter. Maybe there is no intersection in one particular field or theory, but we could touch both, we could touch all in order to deepen the connection in between and our understanding as a human being.]
“what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay”-loc 468 [such question may seem too big to think about or too theoretical to discuss with a friend. but when life gets hard, when there are things that out of the mere control of you own “will”, thinking about such question does help on clearing up the emotional mist. anyone ever said philosophy and science is in general asexual?]
“I wanted that direct experience. It was only in practicing medicine that I could pursue a serious biological philosophy. Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.”-loc 479
“As graduation neared and we sat down, in a Yale tradition, to rewrite our commencement oath-a melding of the words of Hippocrates, Maimonides, Osler, along with a few other great medical forefathers-several students argued for the removal of language insisting that we place our patients’ interests above our own. (The rest of us didn’t allow this discussion to continue for long. The words stayed. This kind of egotism struck me as antithetical to medicine and, it should be noted, entirely reasonable.)”-loc 705
“‘I don’t know. What I do know-and I know you know these things, too- is that your life is about to-it already has changed. This is going to be a long haul, you understand? You have to got to be there for each other, but you also have to get your rest when you need it. This kind of illness can either bring you together, or it can tear you apart…'”-loc 717
“While all doctors treat disease, neurosurgeons work in the crucible of identity: every operation on the brain is, by necessity, a manipulation of the substance of our selves, and every conversation with a patient undergoing brain surgery cannot help but confront this fact.”-loc 728
“like the Greek concept arete, I thought, virtue required moral, emotional, mental, and physical excellence.”-loc 737.
“At moments, the weight of it all became palpable. It was in the air, the stress and misery. Normally, you breathed it in, without noticing it. But some days, like a humid muggy day, it had a suffocating weight of its own. Some days, this is how it felt when I was in the hospital: I trapped in an endless jungle summer, wet with sweat, the rain of tears of the families of the dying pouring down.”-loc 793
“Being with patients in these moments certainly had its emotional cost, but it also had its rewards. I don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life- and not merely life but another’s identity it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul-was obvious in its sacredness.”-loc 969 [love should do the same protection, in a spiritual way:_)]
“One could count on V to always choose the honest (and, often, self-effacing) way forward. While most scientists connived to publish in the most prestigious journals and get their names out there, V maintained that our only obligation was to be authentic to the scientific story and to tell it uncompromisingly. I’d never met someone so successful who was also so committed to goodness.”-loc 993
“The pain of failure had led me to understand that technical excellence was a moral requirement. Good intentions were not enough, not when so much depended on my skills, when the difference between tragedy and triumph was defined by one or two millimeters.”-loc 1041
“It felt to me as if the individual strands of biology, morality, life, and death were finally beginning to weave themselves into, if not a perfect moral system, a coherent worldview and a sense of my place in it. Doctors in highly charged fields met patients at inflected moments, the most authentic moments, where life and identity were under threat; their duty included learning what made that particular patient’s life worth living, and planning to save those things if possible-or to allow the peace death if not.”-loc 1109
“My brother Jeevan had arrived at my bedside. ‘You’ve accomplished so much,’ he said. ‘You know that, don’t you?’
I sighed. He meant well, but the words rang hollow. My life had been building potential, potential that would now go unrealized. I had planned to do so much, and I had come so close. I was physically debilitated, my imagined future and my personal identity collapsed, and I faced the same existential quandaries my patients faced. The lung cancer diagnosis was confirmed. My carefully planned and hard-won future no long exist.”-loc 1146
“The word hope first appeared in English about a thousand years ago, denoting some combination of confidence and desire.”-loc 1266
“I cannot go on, I thought, and immediately, its antiphon responded, completing Samuel Beckett’s seven words, words I had learned long ago as an undergraduate: I’ll go on. I got out of bed and took a step forward, repeating the phrase over and over: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.'”-loc 1413 [Appears in Samuel Becktt’s The Unnameable in 1954, original text is “Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”]
“But if I did not know what I wanted, I had learned something, something not found in Hippocrates, Maimonides, or Osler: the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”-loc 1563
“Yet the paradox is that scientific methodology is the product of human hands and thus cannot reach some permanent truth. We build scientific theories to organize and manipulate the world, to reduce phenomena into manageable units. Science is based on reproducibility and manufactured objectivity. As strong as that makes its ability to generate claims about matter and energy, it also makes scientific knowledge inapplicable to the existential, visceral nature of human life, which is unique and subjective and unpredictable. Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”-loc 1593
“Conversely, we knew that one trick to managing a terminal illness is to be deeply in love-to be vulnerable, kind, generous, grateful.”-loc 2014
“We all inhabit different selves in space and time.”-loc 2044
“And yet this is not always an easy place to be. The weather is unpredictable. Because Paul is buried on the windward side of the mountains, I have visited him in blazing sun, shrouding fog, and cold, stinging rain. It can be as uncomfortable as it is peaceful, both communal and lonely- like death, like grief-but there is beauty in all of it, and I think this is good and right.”-loc 2065
“I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul dead. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it.”-loc 2076
“‘You cannot reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.’ its was arduous, bruising work, and he never faltered. This was the life he was given, and this is what he made of it. When Breath Becomes Air is complete, just as it is.”-loc 2087
I finished The Name of The Wind on my flight to SD, and stared When Breath Becomes Air on the same flight. I’ve reading it during my full week stay there, and I’ve been reading it in my bedroom at Via Tresca and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaves at Carmel Mountain when I wasn’t traveling around or hanging out with Rick. I just finished the last line on my way back to Beijing, an hour before landing.
It is a very weird timing, for this book filled up my long planed visit from the beginning to its end.
Bothered with my mixed feeling, way more complicated than the situation itself appears to be, this book still kept me fully engaged for its heavy content, serious topic, and graceful narrative.
When someone face the end of his life, thoughts on meanings and values naturally overrun all other nuances and trifles of life. Things emotionally bugging us becomes a string in the vast knitting work of our rethinking of life itself.
When I read through Lucy’s epilogue, it suddenly gets clear to me that my next trip would be to Chicago. There is an absolute uncertainty about this decision. Maybe I want to go back to the beginning; maybe I want to look for something new; maybe I want to throw away my guilt and reminiscence and all happened in the past; maybe I just want to seek the familiar comfort that only the lake is able to give.
I no longer feel myself falling apart, regardless of all sentimentalities struck during the past three years. Like Paul couldn’t finish the book or exhausts the possibilities of his goal of life or gets a definite conclusion of the meaning of life, neither could I finish the narrative of everything happened during my past adventure or tell what exactly have been going on in both of our lives or get a clear direction pointed to where I will be going.
It’s so easy to make two people apart. I used to think, in my innocent childhood living in a very stable environment, that it takes all efforts to going out, it takes all efforts to departure, to gain freedom and independence through separation. But when the journey begins, I start to learn that a new offer, the end of an internship, an illness, or even just a single sentence could tear people apart in the wildest ways.
And only through witness of the coming end of a vivid life, do I really see the dignity of life, because only then will we save all the explanations and get down to the dedication of our communication with hearts-true happiness, grief, gratefulness, maybe anger and guilt too. Things so easily get overlooked in our daily routine, people so easily taken for granted for their constant being by our side…everything so normal to us may also be the most important, but we don’t volunteer to see them until we are forced to do so.
I don’t know where this notes will lead me to. I hope it’s not only about the future Chicago trip, or a new decision, but also a vogue idea on changing of my own attitude towards life, towards love.