Treasured Excerpts From Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

Inspired by my Instagram post.

In no particular order, these are the paragraphs and sentences I found most fascinating and in this breath-taking memoir.


Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.


We build scientific theories to organize and manipulate the world, to reduce phenomena into manageable units. Science is based on reproducibility and manufactured objectivity. As strong as that makes its ability to generate claims about matter and energy, it also makes scientific knowledge inapplicable to the existential, visceral nature of human life, which is unique and subjective and unpredictable. Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.


The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.


You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.


Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.


This is how 99 percent of people select their jobs: pay, work environment, hours. But that’s the point. Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job—not a calling.


Maybe life  is  merely an “instant,” too brief to consider.


Standing there, waiting in the OR with a nine-hour surgery stretching out before her, Mari had a whisper of a thought:  I’m so tired—please God, let there be mets . There were. The patient was sewn back up, the procedure called off. First came relief, then a gnawing, deepening shame. Mari burst out of the OR, where, needing a confessor, she saw me, and I became one.


You would think that the first time you cut up a dead person, you’d feel a bit funny about it. Strangely, though, everything feels normal. The bright lights, stainless steel tables, and bow-tied professors lend an air of propriety. Even so, that first cut, running from the nape of the neck down to the small of the back, is unforgettable. The scalpel is so sharp it doesn’t so much cut the skin as unzip it, revealing the hidden and forbidden sinew beneath, and despite your preparation, you are caught unawares, ashamed and excited.


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An Interesting Interview With The Adunbiara-Edumare Band Leader, Jesupelumi Eso

IMG-20170621-WA0009Music is what connects us, arguably, on the most vulnerable scale. It’s the rhythm of our lives, how we see the world and a reminder of the things that matter most. I had the privilege of chatting with the leader of a fast-rising Nigerian band (Adunbiara Edumare) that specializes in the mashing together of indigenous cultural musical instruments,  like the Yoruba “Talking Drum” (Gan-Gan) coupled with songs rendered mostly in conforming local dialects.  What they do is a rare delight to the ears and feet of any lover of music, dance, culture and joy. Joy because it is an unfailing element and side-effect of their sound. Pelumi, the leader as he is fondly called by friends and family, and I discuss the ethos, genesis, ingenuity and beauty of their work, how this journey of performing music on the campus of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife has been so far and also what lies ahead. He is a student of the University, and claims he has always had a keen interest in music, even while growing in his mother’s womb.


 

TRJ: Introduce yourself, tell us a little about your childhood and when you first got interested in music.

I am Eso Jesupelumi. A Nigerian, born in Ile-Ife, Osun State. I am a 300 Level student of Dramatic Art at OAU (Obafemi Awolowo University). I am the only male in a family of three children. I have been in love with music since I was in my mom’s belly; I would say, it’s in-born. I have been a music person all my life. 

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TRJ: Did you always dream about putting a band together?

No. I never had it in mind. The ‘calling’ just came. Twas in my first year in the university. I just felt the creativity…. Then… Boom! That’s how it all started!

TRJ: How did it start? Is there a story there? And what are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Adunbiara Edumare almost started off with the wrong set of people due to the way the fire was burning in me; I felt I could just gather anybody, so God was looking at me like—okay, let see where your wisdom will get you—so I called like almost five rehearsals  but nobody showed up. I was almost giving up when I got words of encouragement from God. In less than five days after that, everything started working out for good till now.

TRJ: Oh, so how did you find the right people eventually? And can you tell us about the name?

Finding the right people was God, that’s all I can say. They are just the perfect kind of people to work with, we are so much like family.

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The name Adunbiara Edumare was actually birthed to from series of personal meetings with God. Adunbiara in english means sounds like thunder. As we know, the sound of thunder no matter how faint, calls for attention; it has this natural backing in its sound, it can never be compared to any other natural sound. Edumare means God. Therefore, Adunbiara Edumare together literally means sounding like the thunder of God. Well it’s actually very difficult to explain in English but it’s a name that has the backing of God in it

TRJ: What would you say is the style of the band?

Uhm. it’s the Talking Drum (GanGan) leading like a lead singer in church, then the voices backup like normal praise session in church. Although we do all kinds of genres in music (most if not all) with the same pattern or style.

TRJ: How many times a week do you rehearse and where?

Twice. In the school environment and sometimes in a studio.

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TRJ: Has it been difficult financially?

Uhm. All we can say is God has been helping us. We are with God so we are not alone.

TRJ: Can you tell me about your past events and your experience so far

Sure. We have been to concerts and church programs. We were at RCF OAU DAC 2016, we were at Living Spring 2016 and 2017. We’ve also been at New Redemption Church headquarters, RCCG Kings Word, to mention a few.

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We had many experiences in these places both good and the almost-good. We never had any bad experience, we mostly had the problem of engineers to set-up, so most times the sound has not always been perfect but God always moves. Though we’ve had very good sound sometimes too. One of the not good experiences we had again was recently. We mostly use just two talking drums ,the leading one and the one that would play rhythm and balance up. This fateful sunday, we went with three talking drums, before we started the ministration at all, we already had major problems with two talking drums. Woaw! I was so down like, how would we use just one drum, imagining all the arrangement and sequence we had arranged. But then, we had to use just one drum like that, and God himself ministered through us that day as the program was a success.

We could not stop screaming as Adunbiara left us speechless!

– Livingspring Christian Music Festival, Facebook.

TRJ: How about your forthcoming programs? Where and when are they taking place?

We are having an open air concert very soon Festival Of Praise V1.0 in OAU at Anglomoz Car Park, 5pm, July 16 is the date. The whole family will be there and also the head of the family (GOD) will also be there to dish out gifts of many kinds to the needy. Theme is NO GREATER LOVE from John 15:13

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TRJ: Any registration or payment to be made?

No. It’s free. No protocol no program outline. Just coming together to worship God for at least 3 to 4 hours

TRJ: What would you say is the message of your band if you have one and what do you want people to experience when they listen to you

The main message is love. The love of God to man, we want people to see or come to the conciousness of the love God has for them. He doesn’t want us to perish neither does he want us to suffer. The whole message in this world no matter what, revolves around the love of God. Love is all we preach.

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To enjoy a pinch of their music, visit their YouTube channel here. Find Pelumi on Facebook, here, to keep up with their concerts and events. It was a pleasure, this interview, and I look forward to doing it again in a few years when they are releasing albums and touring the world. If you are at OAU, be sure to attend their concert on the 16th of July. Mark your calendars.

If you are an artist, reader, creative of any kind and would like to be interviewed, fill out this form so we can get it done and dusted.

 

 

PS: TRJ – The Red Journalist.

The Egg

By: Andy Weir (Author of Best Selling Novel; The Martian)

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.


Copied from his website: http://www.galactanet.com

This is the most intriguing thing I have ever read in my entire life. How did he even think of that? I am beyond floored, speechless.

This Is Water

BY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE  

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude – but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let’s get concrete …

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real – you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues”. This is not a matter of virtue – it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centred, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired, and you’re stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home – you haven’t had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job – and so now, after work, you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the workday, and the traffic’s very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store’s hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can’t just get in and quickly out: you have to wander all over the huge, overlit store’s crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough checkout lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can’t take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.

Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your cheque or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etc, etc.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I’ve worked really hard all day and I’m starved and tired and I can’t even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid goddamn people.

Or if I’m in a more socially conscious form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUVs and Hummers and V12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just 20 stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks …

If I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do – except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible car accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to rush to the hospital, and he’s in a much bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am – it is actually I who am in his way.

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re “supposed to” think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it’s hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you’re like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat-out won’t want to. But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line – maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible – it just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important – if you want to operate on your default setting – then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars – compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: the only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”


Copied from http://www.theguardian.com

This is currently my favorite piece of writing, even though that isn’t a technically correct sentence, since this isn’t exactly a piece of writing, but rather a speech given by this author. Wallace is incredible, obviously. And I am desperately keen on reading more of his work. The themes that template this speech reminds me of an interview of the host of the popular radio show On Being, Krista Tippett on her new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery And Art Of Living.

Krista Tippett

She said

I believe that we have the capacity—we are born with the capacity to be compassionate like we are born with the capacity for language. But how do we learn language? We learn it by having— not by people teaching us actually or telling us about it— people doing it around  us and by doing it ourselves. And this idea… I think we think of virtues… I think we may be thinking, well some people are more compassionate than others. Some people are more kind, more forgiving, more patient. Or that’s just not me, I just don’t have that. And of course none of us has all of those virtues, but they are things (and you know the new years resolution doesn’t do it— we all know that) uhm.. but they are things we actually don’t have to feel or be gifted with, but we can decide that we are going to develop that muscle memory as a habit.

This idea also reminds me of The Power of Habit, a book by Charles Duhigg that I am planning to reread and properly review.