When Breath Becomes Air

Many of you know that I’ve been stuck at the townhouse over the last few days.  Our floor is being installed and trust me, while I’m starting to feel penned in-I’m SO grateful to see something other than concrete!!  Hopefully the project will be completed today.

Yesterday while under “den arrest” upstairs, I read a short book by Dr. Paul Kalanithi titled “When Breath Becomes Air.” It is a haunting, deeply thought provoking, story of a life cut short by an aggressive lung cancer; in this case-his own. Paul was stricken right as he was approaching the conclusion of his grueling residency in neurosurgery.


In the book, this Stanford, Yale and Cambridge graduate grapples with the meaning of life and his complicated feelings about facing his own untimely death right at the starting line of what was to be a promising career. He was married and also had a new baby daughter.

Of course I’m upstairs reading Paul’s profoundly moving story of unrealized dreams while Juan is downstairs tapping and sawing away at our flooring- hour after hour after hour. I wondered what HIS goals and dreams for the future were.  I also wondered if Paul’s story would be any less tragic if he wasn’t looking ahead to, and diligently training for, this brilliant surgical career that so few among us would be capable of mastering.

What I eventually came to I realize as I got further into the book was that the depth of his terrible misfortune wasn’t meant to be measured by the greatness of a future that wouldn’t materialize, it was hidden in the nightmarish possibility that too much of his life had been deferred in pursuit of this now unattainable dream.

You certainly don’t have to be a physician in training to make this mistake.

The conclusion I came to after reading this book (and tossing and turning all night) was that while it is truly important to have aspirations, develop our God given talent and realize our calling, it is equally important not to ignore the significance and worthiness of the precious days that cumulatively pave that path to achievement. When Paul came to realize that his life would be cruelly cut short, he reflected on the value of what he had been able to accomplish in his 37 years.  He had a loving family, good friends and had positively impacted the lives of others. In this regard, what really mattered most to the doctor at the end of his life would probably be what matters most to everyone else.. no matter when the end comes.

Yes, there was so much potential, so much left to give, but he was ultimately satisfied that his short life had had a purpose..and that included writing this book.



photo credit:www.nytimes.com,parnassusmusing.net







One Comment Add yours

  1. Wow, a great point! Ive always said it’s not about the quantity of life the the quality. Having my father pass on when he was just 42 and I was 13 profoundly made my goals be to be rich in the things money can’t buy. I’ve done that and am loving this stage of life where I get to sit back and watch my children fly!

    Liked by 1 person

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