Life turns on a dime. The pages of this blog in the new year have shown a much, as a seemingly never-ending litany of death an illnesses are recounted day after day.
From noted neurologist and NY Times contributor Oliver Sacks:
A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver...but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted. It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can…
Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).
I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
A beloved judge falls ill and has a serious operation and is hopefully recovering. Judge Morton Perry lives a long and productive life before passing away this year. Ditto for Judge Marshal Ader. And yet every so often we walk into the courtroom on the sixth floor once occupied by Judges Manny Crespo and Rob Pinero and we remember that there are no guarantees. The days of our lives are not fixed by anything other than….what? Luck? Happenstance? Providence?
How can we believe in Providence when we recall the case of the innocent child cut down by the bullet meant for the drug dealer? The Miami Dade Police officer murdered in his car in a tragic case of mistaken identity? The family killed by a drunk driver, when leaving the house five minutes earlier or later would have avoided the confluence of lives and tragedies?
Is Dr. Sacks lucky to be able to confront his mortality? Are the precious days in which he will squeeze every ounce of juicy life worth the fear of the near, impending end? Or does the certainty remove the fear?
Questions; we have thousands. Answers; we have few.
It may sound trite, but we know this: in the end it is the quality of the life you live, not the quantity. The stand taken for principal. Character is celebrated when a small woman won't go to the back of the bus. But real character is what you do when no one is looking; when you pause as you rush to your next case and hold the door for the overburdened woman pushing a stroller or stop and spend a minute to assure an elderly woman that her grandson will be released shortly, or the money you slip into the hands of a hungry person, or the anonymous donation you make to the charity. There are the smiles on the face of children when the work you have done results in their father or mother walking through the door of home that night. The teenager who completes drug court after you refused to give up on her and the parent who can do no more than say a heartfelt "thank you" when she has her daughter back.
This is life. Not the life of your family, but the life of our work, and it is what we do that hopefully, when the end arrives, will allow us to say we took our skills and made a difference. That we squeezed from life every last ounce of juice and drank deeply and with satisfaction. It is what, we think and hope, will allow Dr. Sacks to live these last months, and hopefully more, with a smile on his face.
See you in court.
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