What Courage Sounds Like
Today Susan, one of Enough’s writers, shared with me the last paragraph of Abraham’s Verghese’s forward for Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Turns to Air:
Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way. But above all, see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words. In a world of asynchronous communication, where we are so often buried in our screens, our gaze rooted to the rectangular objects buzzing in our hands, our attention consumed by ephemera, stop and experience this dialogue with my young departed colleague, now ageless and extant in memory. Listen to Paul. In the silences between his words, listen to what you have to say back. Therein lies his message. I got it. I hope you experience it, too. It is a gift. Let me not stand between you and Paul.
Quite a set up. For quite a book. When Breath Turns to Air is a memoir by a neurosurgeon who, upon receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, asks, “What makes life worth living?” The book sounds incredible, but this paragraph of the forward alone gave me pause. For one, it is written beautifully. The other day, I read something so lovely that I carved out extra nooks and crannies in my day to ingest as much as possible. It was a refreshing break from emails and social media. It was art. Good art dusts off the soul. It reminded me to keep picking up good writing, seeking out slow art. This paragraph reminds me too. Good listening to other and self and real interactions at at this level of humanity.
Abraham also asks us so directly to question what has our attention. Where is our gaze directed? Who are we listening to? Are we listening, or just hearing? How often do we approach an endeavor or interaction with such intention and readiness? How often do we take the time to really listen, to really live? How often do our communications feel so profound? And, how often do we read such a beautifully written tribute?
The image of the rectangular object buzzing in my hand has stuck. What role does this object play in hindering us listening to the silence between words and our own response in that silence? Do we have enough courage to put the object down and turn our attention to deep listening, consuming art, and considering our mortality?