William Osler was one of the most brilliant physicians of his generation (1849-1919) and his life story fills two thick volumes.
He was travelling on an ocean liner and noticed that, at certain times, the captain would press a button and various areas of the ship would be cut off from each other.
Each of us,” thought Dr Osler, “is more wonderful than the great ship and has a much longer voyage to make. Where is the secret of success, the best way to reach port? “To live each day in a completely closed compartment. In other words, separate the past – the dead days of yesterday -, separate the future – the tomorrow that has not yet arrived – and live each day to the full. Enjoy it little by little. Squeeze all the juice out of it.
Because most men and women don’t act like that, there are many tired and nervous people out there, few balanced and happy people.
Drawing an iron curtain over the past and another one over the future, I know it is not an easy task. But we must try to live each day fully and separately. The secret of success lies there.
Many men and women spend their lives moaning like turtledoves. They live on memories, regrets, nostalgia. Others caw like crows: cras, cras, words that in Latin mean: tomorrow, tomorrow. They live on vague dreams, dreams and mirages, if not on worries and anxieties. The weight of yesterday, added to the clouds of tomorrow, bends them, crushes them, with each passing hour.
It is wiser to imitate the goldfinch. It sings because it has a song to sing. The life we have to live is today. Why waste energy licking old sores or weeping for the happy days of the past? Why poison the present with the possible bitterness of the future? Or why dream of a magic rose bush beyond the horizon instead of enjoying the roses blooming below our window?
William Osler encouraged his students to begin the day with the Christian prayer: “…give us this day our daily bread”. The prayer asks only for today’s bread. It does not complain about the hard bread we broke yesterday, nor does it want us to grieve over the possibility that tomorrow’s slice will be missing.
I know well that the author of the Lord’s Prayer did not forbid us to think about tomorrow, but commanded us to be alert and vigilant. What he told us was that each day is enough with its work.
The only certainty is today. Yesterday, good or bad, no longer belongs to us; tomorrow, who knows if it will belong to us? In fact, for each of us, there is no tomorrow. If we get there, it will be another today. Eternity will be a permanent today, a day without a sunset.
Certainly, we need to prepare carefully for our future. We need to study for the necessary qualifications. We need to set it aside for retirement. Save some money for old age or sickness. Make plans for the future. However, we must not worry unnecessarily.
Between the sterile sighing and the useless waiting, we must open our eyes to the present reality and face the challenges of the present. The answer to life must be given today – and then in an uninterrupted succession of today. It has to be built, today and today, brick by brick, like a house is built. Today I can quit smoking. Today for today I will be able to do that job. Today I will not be afraid to face that problem. Today I will make those around me happy. Today I can accept that person. Today I can start that work. Today I can live with gentleness, honesty and patience until sunset. Today I can make amends for that wrong procedure. Today I can start a new life, make it a masterpiece. Today I can give my smile, my hug, my love, my help, my forgiveness, my flowers; tomorrow they may no longer be needed.
The best way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate on the present, to get drunk on what we are doing, like a golfer. To invest all our intelligence, all our enthusiasm in the activity at hand, to make it the most beautiful and the most fruitful possible. We are faithful to the eternal to the extent that we do not betray the moment.
The wise man is not the one who says: “when I grow up; when I retire…”. It is he who lives, without distractions and with responsibility, the message of the present. No one takes advantage of the great occasions that will arise tomorrow, if he does not take advantage of the modest and banal daily occasions.
Our friend Dr. Osler had on his desk the Indian Kalidasa’s “Greeting to the Dawn”. The poem ends: “Take good care of today / Here is the greeting at dawn”.
I prefer Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made / Let us rejoice and be glad in it”.
Indeed, why not live it to the full? Why cloud the sky, projecting on it the shadows of the past or the possible threats of the future? Why not appreciate the roses blooming under my window?
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Noah Näf)