I recently read one of those books that is hard to read—but worth it. It wasn’t hard to read because of the way it was written, but because of the topic. “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” (Atul Gawande) is a sensitive doctor’s perspective on the issues that arise in aging in America.
In this book, Dr. Gawande suggests that “at least 2 kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness. The first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality—the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped. Such courage is difficult enough. We have many reasons to shrink from it. But even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find. The problem is that the wise course is so frequently unclear. For a long while, I thought that this was simply because of uncertainty. When it is hard to know what will happen, it is hard to know what to do. But the challenge, I have come to see, is more fundamental than that. One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes are what should matter most.” (232)
As I consider the struggles of aging, I am aware that fear has significant power. In fact, when I think about the lives of most people, fear can be a fundamental driving force. We fear for our jobs, our children’s well-being, our parents’ health. We fear that the political decisions of a few will make life worse for the many. We fear for the safety of the planet. There are many things to fear and that fear can paralyze us.
But courage is deciding that, in the midst of uncertainty, hope matters more than fear. Courage is looking at the reality and realizing that there is risk. But rather than giving into fear, we have to decide that we will act on what we hope and love. We can choose to act to realize the hope that makes life good rather than to cower in fear of what might happen. Living that way may bring more joy to our days.