Thoughts – trite and true – from the desk of experience


Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is quoted: “Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.”

But Satchel Paige (1906-1983) got it right when he said: “How old would you be if you did not know how old you were?” In that vein consider the following thoughts as I enter my ninth decade.

I have traveled to many and various places, but I always came home. Variety is the spice of life, but the spices by themselves are not sufficient. They must be sprinkled on a solid base, be it food or life.

We pay lip service to the effects of making bad choices, but only when we personally experience their consequences do we really understand what happens when we make bad decisions. And if we do not suffer these results, we will generally continue to make more bad choices.

Our children are always our children. If we are no longer attending school plays in person, we continue to attend their life events forever in spirit. We may not tell our children, but we boast to our friends about the performances.

A paradox: as the parts increasingly malfunction and occasionally break we try to behave as if we will go on forever, while acquiring an increasing and undeniable sense of mortality.

Having enough money is wonderful. But we find that more than that does not mean much unless we use it to benefit others.

Like water in the desert, time becomes more valuable the less there is of it.

As a comfortable chair can lull us into inactivity, comfortable habits can deny us the experiences of life that make it interesting.

Some wine ages well before it spoils. But it is only when drunk at its peak that it fulfills its destiny. So we may age well, but we need to continue to drink of life before it spoils, as it inevitably will.

My mother, who lived to 89, told me that the worst thing about a long life lived in reasonably good health is the loss of friends and family. She was right about this and a few other things.

The Jewish tradition says that the death of one person is like the death of all people. So by analogy being relevant to one person is as important as being relevant to many. Kindness and interest bestowed on one person is a blessing to all.

We often cannot predict the long-term effects of our actions. I doubt that my grandfather knew when he took me (age 12) for rides to nowhere on the New York subway that this kindness would be multiplied and returned in different forms to my grandchildren.

This “old author” is happy to be able to offer these thoughts.

HERB RAKATANSKY, M.D. is a resident of Providence and clinical professor of medicine emeritus at Brown University.