While working multiple shifts over Christmas, I cared for two men my age with acute life-changing intracranial bleeds that left them half-paralyzed. In between those shifts, I spent my remaining energy reading Peter Schjeldahl's personal history piece in the New Yorker, "77 Sunset Me." (It appears online as "The Art Of Dying.")
Mr. Schjeldahl has been the magazine's art critic for over 20 years, but this article differed from his prior contributions. He has metastatic lung cancer, and this was an unflinching appraisal of his life.
It is written as a series of beautiful fragments, poor decisions revisited, friends and lovers found and lost. A penultimate tallying of actions and consequences and wounds inflicted. The effect is less actuarial and more joyful than I can convey.
There are elements of mania to the writing - time and strength being in limited supply, one scribbles what one can with little regard to editing. There's an implicit assumption that there won't be time for revision.
As a memoir under extreme deadline, the result is engrossing. He does not apologize for the sex he had or excuse the substances he used. He does not experience a deathbed conversion. He does not repent from the times he acted the jerk, or ask to take back the hurt he caused. He does not gloss over his years as an addict or his absence as a father.
The fragments fit together when you appraise them as a whole - the viewer with nose pressed inches from a pointillist work stepping back to be startled by the cumulative effect.
It is an aesthete's master class on gratitude. You will not regret the hour you spend reading it.
Please save it for a moment of appropriate insomnia or a quiet morning before the household is awake.
Putting it on your radar is my gift to you for the holidays. Here.
Some of you, dear readers, might protest that a farewell piece has no place in a blog about physician finance. To which I would reply that physician finance is really a head fake. Getting your finances in order is actually about deciding what kind of life you want to lead.