Michael Attas: Contrasting one way of seeing and living life with another

Waco Tribune-Herald (TX) - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Author: MICHAEL ATTAS Guest columnist


When Mrs. Smith walked into a room, the world shimmered in her joy.

She was radiating the most beautiful smile, her eyes were bright, and her pure love of life was palpable and contagious. She hugged our nurses, receptionists and staff.

She had a few straightforward questions about her heart, but wanted to get moving because she had a lot of volunteer work to do and errands to run.

She also had widely metastatic breast cancer brain, lungs, bone, retina, and liver. She had endured what almost was a heroic treatment program, yet the course of her disease was inexorably downhill.

She was a living testament to the power of the human spirit and will. She was willing to explore life and all of its beauty and suffering.

She was everything I could possibly hope to be. I was in awe of her and wish I could bottle what she had for it is something the world is always in need of.

Mrs. Smithís love of life was a force and she willingly shared it. If I could clone her will and spirit, I would win the Nobel Prize for service to mankind.

But when Mrs. Jones she walked into a room, its life and energy dissipated.

She always had a stack of research about imaginary diseases that often are a part of what I call the cottage industry of medicine that preys on people who seem to need to be ill. She had a masterís degree and flaunted it to prove how wrong her caregivers were.

She had a long medication list and it grew with each visit. She was almost always angry about something and she exuded such a negative flow of energy that it depleted those around her.

She had no diseases to speak of that were serious but to listen to her, you would think she had weeks to live.

She lived to be ill. In contrast to Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones seemed to enjoy multiple doctors visits, as her life revolved around a series of specialists for all of her ailments. She would come with spreadsheets, charts, data, and proposed treatment plans.

Mrs. Smith could care less about most of that she simply was too alive to bother.

Simply put, my first patient was alive. The second patient became the walking dead.

I was reminded of Jesus phrase abundant life. It is almost always misunderstood as eternal life. Yet I believe what he was talking about was being alive at the moment. To be alive to the wonder of joy and life all around us. To be involved with all of creation, so that when illness overtakes us we are not defeated.

Mrs. Smith had somehow captured the ability to give something back to the world in the smallest of ways. Mrs. Jones was a taker.

In many ways, abundant life is not about immortality at all. It is about being fully and completely alive where we are. And that is such a hard thing to do sometimes.

We get distracted in our own trajectories that we forget to open our eyes to the beauty and wonder of the world. We forget how important human relationships are and the power that love has to heal us.

We need to learn to hold on to the best parts of ourselves, while we let go of the other stuff that can carry us to the corners of our lives where the light cannot reach.

Mrs. Smith got that. Mrs. Jones did not.

In Deuteronomy, God tells the people of Israel that he has set before them life and death, blessings and curses.The choices we make in life and in our illnesses are simply a response to the question: How do we choose to live?

Michael Attas is a local physician, a medical humanities professor and an Episcopal priest. Email him at Michael_Attas@baylor.edu.

Section: accesswaco
Record Number: 14815327
(c) 2011 Robinson Media Co. LLC - Waco Tribune-Herald

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Michael Attas: Contrasting one way of seeing and living life with another

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