Thursday, November 11, 2004

My wife asked me yesterday if I thought I was depressed. And I said no. Almost as a reflex.

But you know what? Maybe I am depressed. Granted, not severely. But maybe somewhat. It would explain why I've stopped going to the gym. Stopped waking up with my wife at five, instead sleeping in with my daughter till past seven. Even though we still go to sleep at around nine pm. I'm obsessed with the fact that this rich, seemingly educated nation has (re)elected a dangerous idiot for a president. I've started eating candy and sweets again. And I've been procrastinating for days on this really easy, straight-forward, almost tiny job that I need to get done.

I've also stopped blogging. I know, that's not a first, but this time it's been different. I feel...hollow. Somehow. Like I have no effect on the tragic turn that this world is taking. I know that shouldn't upset me. I should just go back to my seemingly completely inconsequential busying with reading and writing legal papers about something that interests and amuses me, but doesn't really change anything of consequence, in the big scheme of things. Noone's life is especially better because of my work. Really. It's the old "You never hear anybody standing up in a plane or in a crowd yelling 'Oh my god! Quickly, is there a lawyer in here?!'?".

Which brings me to one of these really good, long conversations I had with my wife recently. Really, having someone with whom you can intelligently discuss anything and everything on your mind ought to be a human right. Anyways. I was lamenting the lack of any purpose that my work has, except to amuse and intrigue me, and to make money. I went on about how great it would be if I had the inclination to be a doctor. I mean, nothing could beat going to work each day and actually save someone's life. I knew my wife would agree with me, at least up to a point. But I was interested in seeing this from her perspective. Seeing more angles. Her work has been getting more and more hectic in these last few months, and working as a trauma surgeon brought a renewed emphasis, in this little chat of ours, to a couple of recurring themes in our somewhat regular existential discussions: One, this stuff actually cuts both ways. And two, being a doctor can become little more than a job, just like anything else.

On the first point: As you start working in a situation where you can possibly save lives, there are times when you can't. And those can weigh heavily on you. Watching people die, especially if your job is to prevent that, can eat away at you. My wife's Achilles heel is young people. Kids and teenagers. She feels that kids dying, parents surviving their children, etc., is wrong. Not just sad, but wrong. Like a natural law being violated in some way. That it is against that which should be. We've discussed this a number of times through the years, and this feeling of hers only seems to be getting stronger. Which is one of the prime reasons we want to move to Africa to work with underprivileged kids, after she is done with her eventual fellowship. But that's another story. I think the underlying reason for her feeling this way, is her profound belief that everybody should have an equal opportunity. When it became clear to us, oh maybe fifteen years ago, that we shared a political philosophy, the common ground was that we believed that everyone should have an equal start, not an equal finish. For example, everyone should have the opportunity to work hard and show that they are the best person for a job, regardless of anything else. It would be unacceptable that someone got that job just because he was white. Or black. Or male. Or female. The outcome shouldn't be pre-determined. No prejudice should be left unchallenged. And neither should you fight wrong with wrong. Like affirmative action. Or gender quotas. Everybody should get a fair shot. Equal opportunities. One of our favourite quotes is from Addams Family, the movie: "The human spirit is a hard thing to kill. Even with a chain saw." You should allow it to soar, because it is the best potential this species has. And kids hold the greatest promise of all. Their path should be cleared. They should get a solid, fundamental education. All of them. They should not be exposed to cruelty. Or abuse. Or poverty. Or drugs. Their health should be well cared for. And when they become men and women, when they are able to stand on their own two feet in this world, they should be free. Free to explore. Or Create. Or charge into the competitive corporate world. Or whatever. Freedom truly is a wonderful concept. Despite the way leeches and thugs try to use it to cast a favourable light on their own, despicable actions. But it is from this fundamental vision that my wife's heartache stems. It is in the unrealized potential. The vulnerability of these small human beings. These hopes. And their loss. So that is one dark flipside of going to work each morning to 'save lives'.

Another one is the humdrum banality that creeps in with any job. This feeling of the wonder of your work slowly slipping away, because of repetitiveness. Or routine. Or lack of novelty. Or something. You clock in to your work at a hospital, just as you would to any other work. It is a job. And it can become just that. Which brings me to another way to lose the feelings you experience in your work: Callousness. Detachment. Apathy. That incremental deafening. Slowly growing numb to the things that make your heart beat faster. Which is, in my view, not a big deal if your job is to, for example, interpret the same set of corporate tax code clauses all day, every day. But it is profoundly sad when those that work with people's lives in their hands each day grow apathetic to their jobs. And the saddest thing about it is how many actually succumb to this, become depleted and burnt-out, but still stay on in these jobs.

So the bottom-line is perhaps that we all have existential dilemmas to deal with. And they are ongoing. And ever-prevalent. Maybe trying to find the purpose of your life in your job is folly. Maybe one should look for it in a more obvious place: In our people. Our children, our spouses, our friends.

Of course that sounds corny. Many truths do.