What the Englishman said about survival was this: "If you stop taking pride in your appearance, you will very soon die." He said that he had seen several men die in the following way: "They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then ceased to get out of bed, then ceased to talk, then died. There is this much to be said for it: it is evidently a very easy and painless way to go." So it goes.
Death by uncleanliness. That's what the Englishman is talking about. Giving up, surrendering. If you don't care about what you look or smell like, you might as well just dig a hole in the backyard, crawl into it, and pull the dirt over yourself. It's an easy way to kill yourself.
There's some truth to this passage. You have to have something to care about in life, or else life loses its meaning. For example, if all I did was work in a medical office--registering patients, assembling medical charts, entering charges--I don't think that I'd want to get out of bed every morning. That work does not motivate me in any way, except for the money and health insurance it provides. It is not my passion.
The meaning in my life comes from what happens outside the medical office. My wife and kids. The books I read. Poems I write. Students I teach. Music I play. These things give me a reason to get up in the morning. My life really starts after I leave the medical office in the afternoon.
Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy talking to patients. Putting them at ease. Making them laugh. There's something rewarding in that. In the medical office, I meet people who are often frightened, anxious, or angry. If I alleviate these feelings even a fraction, I think I've made the world a better place. That is a rewarding feeling.
I suppose it all depends on attitude. Wherever I am, whatever I do, I try to find meaning. And I usually do. It might be something small--a smile or laugh. It might be something big--seeing a patient who has been given the news that he's cancer free. That's how I make it through my days. Trying to make the world a better place, one small act of kindness at a time.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a bed that's made. Dishes that are washed. And hot showers.