The Way Home
Finding peace of mind
at a slower pace
We read this article on the op-ed page of the February 24, 2009 issue of the Bangor (Maine) Daily News newspaper. It makes a lot of sense to us.
The writer, Erik Steele, is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). He is chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Health Care Systems, and is on the staff of several hospital emergency rooms in Maine. Also, he serves as interim Chief Executive Officer of Blue Hill (Maine) Memorial Hospital.
The article is respectfully and gratefully reproduced here with the generous permission of the Bangor Daily News.
As it happens, the people of Maine are currently (Fall of 2009) arguing among themselves whether to repeal a law passed by the Maine legislature expanding the definiton of marriage to include so-called gay marriage or same-sex marriage, marriage between two people of the same sex. In the October 6, 2009, issue of the Bangor Daily News, there is a compelling op-ed piece by Dr. Steele on this subject. Here is a link to it on the newspaper’s website.
It finally has become apparent to me that I am not immortal. Several acquaintances my age have suffered life-threatening illnesses, and at 52 I have reached an age where heart attacks are a surprise to the patient but not to those taking care of them. Some of my joints ache a tad when I roust them out of bed at 4:30 A.M.. to run in the cold, and it takes me longer to recover from 36 hours with no sleep. I think all this means I am no longer young.
As my risk of age-related illness increases, I have two choices: drive myself nuts worrying about the bazillion diseases I know of that could be brewing in my body and over which I have little control; or taking simple steps to reduce my risks of serious illness where I can. I have chosen the latter, and the result has been a less frenetic life that may last longer. If it doesn’t, it will feel as though it did because I will have lived my life more slowly.
One key change in my behavior has been to reduce my risk of injury, because as a physician I know that the older I am, the more damage an injury will do to me and the longer it will take for me to recover. This has, for example, dramatically affected my driving, where I now spend more time literally in the slow lane in order to reduce my risk of a crash even as I spend more time than ever on Maine roads. I try to leave earlier for my destination, rather than make up time by rushing to get there. I pass fewer cars, watch more carefully for the moose and deer at night, rarely talk on my cell phone while driving anymore, drive more carefully in the snow, and am giving in less often to my need for speed.
When I walk down stairs these days I hold the railing and watch where I’m going, knowing that the ankle bones of a 52-year-old rolled over at the bottom of a missed step are more likely to break than those of a college student. If I broke my ankle as a teenager, at worst it might have meant a missed season of soccer or skiing. If I break my ankle now, it will take me months to recover, perhaps put me out of jogging forever with a permanently painful ankle, and lose me muscle mass I may never regain. There’s more wisdom than there is being a weenie to holding the railing.
Few who know me will believe this, but I sleep more hours at night than I ever did before. I take fewer calls, hit the sack earlier most nights and especially those after working 36 hours straight, catnap occasionally during Emergency Room shifts when the place is empty, and no longer think sleep is vastly overrated. I have discovered that chronic fatigue is probably what it is like to feel depressed, and I don’t like it.
Beyond reducing my risk of having less time left to enjoy, I have been trying to enjoy the time I have left. I minimize the list of things that make me angry, and maximize the list of things that make me smile. I have taken to enjoying simple things more completely and slowly than I did in the past, and making good things last longer. In sipping my morning coffee over 30 minutes of quiet time, I have discovered that life savored does not seem to slip by nearly so fast. Every once in a while I tune up one of my hand planes, and spend an hour smoothing a beautiful piece of wood, one paper-thin shaving at a time, not because I need a smooth board but because I like the smooth time doing something methodical, slow, simple, and satisfying that other woodworkers have done for a thousand years.
I used to be young enough that if my life had ended back then I would have felt gypped. I don’t feel that way anymore, because in slowing down and enjoying my life at a slower pace, I have started to find a peace of mind about my progressively less predictable future.
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