I have to admit, it’s getting better – a little better all the time.
As I mentioned earlier, I have just returned from vacation. I ended my trip with five days in San Francisco, a city that I adored, and would love to visit again. Of course, no visit to San Fran is complete without a trip over the Golden Gate Bridge, which was, both times I attempted it, furiously foggy and in the fifties.
At the urging of my sister’s friend, we took a bus tour over the bridge rather than cycle, which worked out well as I thoroughly enjoyed the tour narration, and learned many interesting facts. One of my favourite stories was about the number of people that had climbed and / or jumped off the bridge – this was especially relevant as the day we were there a chap climbed the bridge and spent all night on the tower, unable to be located owing to the dense fog. Our tour guide told a story about two men that tried to parachute off the tower, and we were both blown back against the bridge, and were stuck hanging by their ‘chutes until a rescue team got them down.
How do you think these people felt? Do you think they wished they had never tried, or you think that they were happy that they at least attempted it, even if they did end up cold, incarcerated, and a laughing stock? The more I think about it the less convinced I am either way, but I do think about how they would feel if they had managed to jump off the bridge, and their parachutes hadn’t had enough air or time to properly deploy. How would they have felt if they’d ended up in the harbour with many cub yards of wet parachute pushing them under the water? Would they still have thought it was worth trying?
Yes, I’m using an extreme example here, but one that I think makes the point. This question is on the list, I’m sure, because of how popular it is to say “better to have tried and failed than have not failed at all”. This logic is enabling up to a point, and then it becomes foolish – and, unfortunately, who is know where that fine line is? I think it is important to aim high, to have dreams, and to work steadily towards them. I think we should always have confidence in our own abilities. I think that urging people to be brave is one thing, but urging people to be risky for risk’s sake is quite another. Especially, I am sad to admit, in this current economical and social climate. Yes, by saying that, I am now officially middle aged.
I think it is important to take risks if we have calculated the fallout – did the people jumping off the golden gate bridge ever consider any other outcome other than the parachutes opening? Was it really worth risking their lives to possibly be the only people ever to parachute off the Golden Gate Bridge? Maybe they thought so, but how many people agree with them? How many people would have told them that it was worth the risk than to never try it at all?
This question is pretty far down on the list, but it’s an issue that’s been prevalent in my recent life. One of my pet peeves in life is having to watch or hear about people who suffer as a result of their own ignorance – claiming selflessness as an excuse. I’m talking specifically about genetic illnesses or predispositions, and I’m going to start this on a personal note.
When I was fifteen years old my mother was diagnosed with late stage two breast cancer. She survived, thankfully, but her treatment was a number of years. In fact, I was in college when I was still visiting her in hospital. I had my own first mammogram before she even finished her treatment – I was eighteen. Some might argue that is radically young, even for someone with a cancer victim in the family, but I disagree. I knew my risks. I went on the pill when I was eighteen, and chose to come off when I was twenty-three because I knew the risks of continued use of hormonal birth control after a certain age.
When I was twenty I found a lump in my left breast and, even though it felt like a cyst, I still went to consult with a doctor to make sure. I could have ignored it, convinced myself it was nothing, and gone about my life. Fortunately, this lump was a simple cyst, something that flares up every month; however, it is something that we (the doctor and I) keep an eye on just in case.
I’ve heard mixed opinions on this topic, especially as I was raised in England where we have a national health system “free healthcare”. I’m going to be honest, when I went in for my cyst several people told me I was overreacting and using up valuable resources for trivial matters – after all, they argue, the odds of it being a cancerous lump were in the 0.00’s, even with my family medical history. What if, they argue, every person that had a cyst went to the doctor – imagine the wasted monetary resources. My argument is this – imagine if all the people that ignored their cancerous lumps went to the doctor when they first noticed them – how much money would we save in treatment costs? And, rather more importantly, how many lives would we save?
Now I’m going to look at someone else that I know, someone that I adore as if they were my own flesh and blood. This person is my parents age, has been of dubious health, and lost both her parents to diabetes. My friend refused to go to the doctor, even for the most uncomfortable thing, claiming to “not want to worry people” or “not be an inconvenience”. Eventually her family forced her to the doctor and she was immediately diagnosed with severe diabetes, her blood sugar levels were out of control. Her long term health has been ruined.
Everyone that knows her argues that she was a victim to her own selflessness, that she simply didn’t think it could be diabetes. I look at it differently – I think she acted out of fear, but also out of ignorance. She ignored the facts, ignored the symptoms, and ignored the risks. Even though she is in her sixties, she had never once had her vitals measured. She was not innocent in this case. Innocence is my good friend Suzann’s baby, Keyra, who was born to a diabetic mother. She is likely to develop diabetes at some time in her life – but when she asks for apple sauce or some other high-sugar treat, she is truly innocent of the risk to her. Of course, she is only one year old. If at sixteen (and after sixteen years of watching her mother inject insulin twice a day), she still demanded sugar, then she would be ignorant.
I know that people will disagree with me, or think I am being too harsh on these people – I don’t mean to sound cruel. My point is that as human beings we are the most informed that we have ever been – we have medical journals available on our smartphones, we have 24 hour numbers to call, we have decades and decades of medical knowledge and history helping us pre-empt our medical pitfalls. There is no excuse to be uninformed, to be ignorant, of our bodies. We owe our genetics a debt of life – we have the potential to life longer than any other generation, but we shrug off our bad choices saying we didn’t have the calorie count, and are allowing sticking our heads in the proverbial sand.
This question seems rather apt right now, as I sit on a flight home after 10 days vacation. Ten glorious days with my sister, who lives on the other side of the world, seeing four national parks, four states, and many different cities. Tomorrow I return to work and, like a subconscious stretch before a run, last night I dreamt non-stop about “the office”. I dream about Work all the time – I find it impossible to disconnect myself from my job. Ultimately, this is the American “live to work” culture, and I don’t mind it – I’ve always been a hard worker, and apply myself to every aspect of my life – but this time I made an effort to totally shut myself off from my working life.
I expected it to be harder and scarier than it was, and, although I know that tomorrow I will arrive at my desk to a veritable avalanche of emails, I have no intention of checking in tonight, either.
This time away, as well as the “quarter life crisis” I’m likely in the middle of, has caused me to re-evaluate my life. I like my job, I’m very happy with the company that I work for, and am by all means satisfied with my position. However, I would love the opportunity to work for a non-for-profit. Working in healthcare has opened my eyes to all the huge problems facing America, and how important it is to show support and give funding to the multiple not for profit organizations that dedicate their lives to better understanding, educating, or improving lives surrounding these causes.
I feel live a reverse of myself – or perhaps just a mirror of my quasi-liberal upbringing – I came out of college wanting to join a huge corporation and take over the world, and now I find myself wanting to “save the world”. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
I keep thinking to myself, what would I give from my life to be able to achieve this dream? I have looked into various different volunteer positions, but the truth is that I would need to dedicate evening and weekend hours that, right now, my current job demands. Additionally, having two stinky, scruffy puppies that need their tummies filled, and a husband that doesn’t get home until 9pm, doesn’t really liberate time in my evenings. It’s the most I can do to fit in a 45 minute workout a couple of times a week. But I know that it’s something that I have to find the time to do – or rather, than I need to find time to do to scratch the itch inside my heart that tells me my life so far has been too easy.
Ultimately, the answer to this question is obvious to anyone, and I don’t know a single person that would say they would rather work 30 hours a week gutting fish (unless that’s your calling, in which case more power to you) than doing what they love. Because really, those of us that aren’t lucky enough to work what our heart wants us to work spend so many hours a week dreaming of our “ideal” job, the hours would negate themselves.
I also think it’s important to look at this question as brutally unfair in most aspects – how many people ever have this choice to make? I hope one day that I will be fortunate enough to be able to do what I love, but until then I am not going to be remorseful for the job I do have – there is no value in these “what ifs”, they breed discontent more often than they inspire.
So the Amazon Kindle Fire is an amazing thing, isn’t it? I feel somewhat blasphemous writing this on my macbook, knowing that the Fire was cause of much pain for iPad sales last Christmas, but since indulging myself in January I have barely passed a full day without switching it on. In fact, my addiction is such that I probably use it to check my email and facebook more that I use my laptop. However, non-literary indiscretions aside, I purchased the Kindle Fire as a means to reignite my love of reading, and it hasn’t been a disappointment.
Truthfully, I have been a little let down that some of the books I would like to read are not available in the kindle store (can I get a petition started for LOTR, please?), but for the most part I have been able to read many books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read for fear of stepping foot in a shop. It’s a sad reflection, really, that I absolutely loathe shopping as an adult. I used to adore bookshops with a passion, and would come out armed with volumes of fiction that I would read in a matter of days. Now it’s all coffee and magazines, expensive stationary and iPhone cases and teenagers loping through the aisles searching for the bathrooms.
Purchasing the Fire was a true test of “what is my favourite book”, translated, in e-form, to “which book do I want to download first”. Those that know me won’t be surprised by the fact that after a few minutes and some clumsy finger clicks, my fresh-out-of-the-box Kindle had a brand-spanking-wonderful version of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ on it. It’s my absolute favourite, made more special by the fact that I read it whilst in high school, and it ignited a romanticism in me that I would have imagined crazy before. I even had a reading from it at my wedding.
I would dearly love to make everyone in the world read ‘Wuthering Heights’, but only if I could make them see it the way I see it, which, let’s face it, is unlikely. Any work of fiction carries the risk of personal taste and interpretation. Let’s take Joseph Keller’s modern day classic, ‘Catch 22’. I read this in high school too, and I hated it. I don’t know that I even got to the end. I thoroughly bored me – me, who read Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ when I was 10. I tossed it on my heaving bookshelf with contempt and never gave it a second thought, where it lay discarded until my sister picked it up. That very copy of ‘Catch 22’ still graces her shelf, it has travelled around the world with her, and is now bound together with electrical tape from being thumbed through and read so many times.
I think that my point on fiction has been made clear: you can’t prescribe it. Being told you have to read this book, is a sad temptation for fate to make certain you hate it.
So, back to the question, if I could make all high school students read one book, what would it be? I’m tempted to say “the dictionary” in a derisive tone, as it appears most people could benefit from the read. But I’ll give a proper response.
And here is my answer: Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne.
But wait, it’s a work of fiction, isn’t it? Well, probably (although I like to imagine Eeyore really does roam gloomily through the English woods), but it’s not fiction in the same way. The one wish I have for teenagers, as I see them teetering around in their high heels and tweeting pictures of their iPhones, is that they could reconnect with their childhoods. I would love the idea of a group of teenagers united by the beautiful illustrations by E. H. Shepherd, drawing parallels between their friends and the enthusiastic Tigger or the ever-loyal and unquestioning Piglet. Rather than focusing on lust and torment, like ‘Wuthering Heights’, or the horrors of war and politics, like ‘Catch 22’, A. A. Milne focuses only on the values of friendship, imagination, and innocence. It is a book that we could all benefit from falling in love with – a book that reminds adults that we were children once, and that could possibly, very possibly, remind our children – because teenagers are still children – that they can still believe.