Thursday, May 12, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air - A Review

     When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi who, as an undergraduate with a deep love of both science and literature, sets out to find the “intersection between the mind and the brain,” and who, after becoming a neurosurgeon with only one year of residency left, is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
     Yes, like many other bestsellers of late like Sherwin B. Nuland’s How We Die, and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, When Breath Becomes Air is a book about dying.  But unlike other books about dying, this one is so lyrical and so unforgettable it is as if, like author-physician Abraham Verghese writes in his Foreward, “Out of his pen he was spinning gold.”
     But don’t take my word for it. Or Verghese’s either. Not when you can take it from the doctor himself, who about the morning of his diagnosis writes:
     “I received the plastic arm bracelet all patients wear, put on the familiar light blue hospital gown, walked past the nurses I knew by name, and was checked in to a room – the same room where I had seen hundreds of patients over the years. In this room, I had sat with patients and explained terminal diagnoses and complex operations; in this room, I had congratulated patients on being cured of a disease and seen their happiness at being returned to their lives; in this room, I had pronounced patients dead…I had even, in moments of utter exhaustion, longed to lie down in this bed and sleep. Now I lay there, wide awake.”

     Then upon hearing the words, “The doctor will be in soon,” he writes: “And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.”
     “In the context of Paul’s diagnosis,” Verghese wrote, “I became aware of not just his mortality but my own.” 
     But, if you as reader find any of this amazing, it is what Dr. Kalanithi does after his diagnosis (while trying to find "the intersection between hope and acceptance") that will truly amaze you. 
     In When Breath Becomes Air, Dr. Kalanithi will take you with him as he moves toward death with integrity, vulnerability and courage.
     I loved this book. It strengthened my soul and helped me to answer the question we must all ask in the face of death: What is it that makes life meaningful? 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


I saw a post yesterday on my Facebook feed which read:

“He said, ‘Books or me.’  

I sometimes remember him when I’m buying new books.”

The post was from Writerspace and of course, I loved it and shared it and when she saw it, one of my friends wrote:

Sometimes as I quickly scroll down my wall, I see a post and have passed who posted it. Instead of going right back up, I first read it, and then try to guess who posted it. I always know yours. I know you my friend.

I read that first thing this morning and smiled and felt just like someone in a Jack Nicolson movie. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was the one in which he “woos” (for want of a better word) a waitress who has a sick child and has a neighbor whose dog he hates.

Anyway, when I read what my friend wrote, I felt just like the waitress who,  after receiving a compliment from Nicholson’s character, says “That’s just about the best compliment anybody’s ever given me.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Goodbye American Idol - for Now!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I shall miss American Idol, which I have been watching for the past fifteen years. As I watched it over the two-night finale, sometimes through tears, I enjoyed every minute of it. It did not disappoint. 

Everything - from the words of President Obama saying that Idol has taught our young people the importance of voting, to new idol Trent Harmon's performance of Chandelier, to Jessica Sanchez singing The Prayer - was breathtaking. And, as I watched the parade of familiar faces and listened to their unforgettable voices, memories came back to me, memories not just of American Idol, but cherished memories from my own life too. 

So thank you American Idol for teaching me what I’d always suspected – that talent, when it is nourished and cherished can grow and grow until it becomes not just super, but idolic.

  But most of all thank you for all of the music, new and old, because it is music that gives us wings.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

As I Lay Thinking

I knew I had to come up with something for my blog this month or stop calling myself a blogger. So here’s the little something I came up with.

Do you have trouble getting out of of bed in the morning? I do.

It’s not that I can’t wake up – I’m usually awake before the alarm goes off. I just don’t want to get up. Instead, I just lie there, thinking. And really, I’ll think about almost anything to avoid getting up.

This morning I was thinking about Genesis - you know the first book of the Bible. I was thinking about how it took God seven days to create the world. Actually six, because on the seventh, he rested.

So listen God, I thought as I lay there, how come it took you so long to do something you could have done in an instant? And was that the genesis of our work week? 

Couldn’t you at least have done it in six days, which could have given us a four day work week instead? Which means we could have gone from Sunday to Tuesday and done away with Monday all together.

What I great idea, I congratulated myself, wondering who I could get to endorse it. It could take a while to get God to get into gear and go along with it. Who oh who, I wondered, could I get to support me? Of course, there is really only one candidate who is so rash, he’d endorse something like this without even thinking. I’ll bet he'd endorse it in an instant. Okay, I thought as I finally got up, beating the alarm by just seconds, I’m just going to have to get in touch with The Donald!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Anna's Question

     It was early when I woke up this morning. And cold. I looked at the clock. I had another hour before the alarm would go off. Too bad. Once I’m up, I’m up, but not necessarily out of bed.
     It’s another workday, I thought. (Back in September, I decided not to retire after all. I decided I’d work one more year. Maybe two.) What am I looking forward to? I wondered as my seventy-four year old body burrowed itself deeper under the bright new comforter I bought just a couple of days ago. It’s the softest comforter I’ve ever owned, although I am already taking its softness for granted, but not its warmth.
Today is Friday, January 8. It’s a new day, I think. A new week in a new year. But it’s winter. Oh god, why can’t I just skip winter this year? So far the winter’s been mild, but how long will that continue before the snow, ice and frigid temperatures begin?

     I let my thoughts about the future slide and thought about the Christmas that just passed. (Funny how once it’s passed, Christmas always seems so far behind me.) It was a quiet Christmas this year. Pleasant and satisfying. Then, two days after Christmas, I took my youngest granddaughter to a toy store. “Pick a toy,” I told her. “Any toy.”

     She picked two dolls – the girls from the movie Frozen, Anna and-

     “What’s that one’s name?” I asked, pointing to the blond.

     “Elsa,” she told me.

     “Oh, right. Elsa. Anna and Elsa.”

     “No Mom-mom,” she said. “It’s not Ann-a. It’s Ahna.”

     “Oh, right,” I said again. 

I thought about the sisters, about their interactions in the movie. And about the little one asking, “Do you want to build a snowman?”
     Yes, I thought, finally pushing the covers away. I want to get up. I want to build a snowman! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This is Christmas –

Carols and choirs,
Candy canes and caring.
Midnight, miracles,
Magic and mystery.

A mother, a child,
A shepherd, a lamb.
Santa, his elves, 
And silver bells.

A child asking, “Do you think I’ve been good?”
And reindeer flying the way that they should.
Hay in a manger, glitter on the floor.
Gold, frankincense, and mirth.

Families that are close or far apart.
All the above – or nothing at all
Because a heart that is full
Is what Christmas is about.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Number One

It was last weekend, early Sunday morning, three days after Thanksgiving. I was driving along the Pennsylvania turnpike, heading west to a book signing at the Edgmont Country Club. It wasn't raining, but it had been raining earlier. The roads were still wet. 

I was listening to the very end of Rockin Ron Cade ‘s Elvis and Friends ShowElvis was singing his signature song,  Can’t Help Falling in Love – or he had just finished and I was still enjoying the sound of his voice - when I noticed all the cars in front of me were slowing down. Before I could even wonder why, I watched as a car from the far left lane slid sideways into the center lane and then into the lane directly in front of me, where it started rocking like an out of control motorboat in rough and choppy waters. Then it spun around, its front end facing mine. Somehow – miraculously – it rolled, still upright, onto the shoulder and stopped. 

No one was hurt. As I passed the vehicle I stole a glance at the young woman sitting behind the wheel. I’m sure she was a wreck. I know I was, and I’d be willing to bet we weren’t the only ones. 

During the twelve days of Christmas, there may be French hens a laying and turtle doves a fluttering (or whatever!), but during the twenty-eight days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, miracles abound. That was number one.