When our children were small, among their books was a wonderful collection of poems: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Sol Silverstein. My favorite is:
“I asked the Zebra, are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the Zebra asked me: Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits? ….
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or you sloppy with some neat ways?
I have found that the preponderance of the evidence about life, is that life is not only good, but miraculous. Look through the lens of The Hubble Telescope. See the vast emptiness of space and time. Our individual lives are small and short but I find “A hundred million miracles are happening everyday….!”
I practiced obstetrics earlier. Although pregnancy and childbirth is usually a long hard slog, and unquestionably uncomfortable and painful for the mother and sometimes a challenge for the physician in attendance, I never, ever ceased to be amazed when witnessing the birth of the new life of each human child. It is a miracle! (and when it is your own child, indescribable!).
The examples of the beauty of life inundate me:
“How do I love [Life], let me count the ways:”
Have you ever been in love or have had a really good friend?
Have you had a kitten or a puppy?
Have you experienced your progeny teaching their students of the next generation, among whom may be another Mozart, Picasso or Steve Jobs?
Have you seen The Princess Bride or The Never Ending Story?
Have you heard a symphony and chorus perform Beethoven’s “Choral”, The Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy) ?
Have you seen the Rose Window in the Notre Dame Cathedral?
Look and be absorbed into the images of The Dancers by Edgar Degas!
However, one could hardly practice medicine and ignore the repeated tragedies suffered by individuals and their communities including the early deaths of young people and the humbling, foibles of ones efforts to alleviate suffering. Reflect on the pain, the solitude, the discouragement and the withering which are, often the daily life of the elderly. Consider inborn genetic errors in the innocent neonate. Recognize the earthquakes as of Katmandu; nature’s destruction as of Katrina and Sandy; the volcanic eruptions such as Mount St. Helens!
At the risk of seeming glib and naive: I see these as the black stripes of Job, which test us. These things interrupt life’s white stripes and which, by contrast, heighten my appreciation of the great and rewarding experiences. In truth, it is these things which require us to advance, for the sake of those who have been lost, and encourage the expansion of the good. There are dragons which must be defeated to save the Empress of Fantasia from the power of The Nothing.
What more could one expect from life?
Helen Keller said: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you will not see the shadows.”
Rudyard Kipling: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat these imposters just the same; ….Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…”
“You are the lens through which history projects the future.”
The black stripes are our comprehensive examination of our characters. One must study the challenges, then, diligently engage them.
Charles Clanton Rogers, at Eighty-One Years