If my dear reader has not heard of William Osler, it is enough to know that he was one of the most brilliant doctors of his generation (1849-1919) and that his life story fills two volumes of more than 1400 pages each. What is the key to his success?
One day, he was travelling on an ocean liner and noticed that, at certain times, the commander would press a button and various parts of the ship would be cut off from each other.
Each of us, according to Dr. Osler, is more wonderful than the big ship and has a much longer voyage to make. Where is the secret of success, the best way to get to port? “To live every day in a hermetically sealed 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 proceed like that, there are so many tired and nervous people out there, so 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, daydreams 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 canary. It sings because it has a song to sing. The life we have to live is today. Why waste energy licking old wounds or weeping for the onions of Egypt, the happy days of the past? Why poison the present with the possible bitterness of the future? Or why dream of a magical rose garden beyond the horizon instead of enjoying the roses blooming beneath 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 be afflicted with the hypothesis 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 literally told us was: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow. For tomorrow will bring enough to worry about. Each day is enough for your work”. In other words, make every day a hermetically sealed compartment.
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.
Certainly, we need to prepare carefully for our future. We need to study to have the necessary qualifications. We have to deduct for our pensions. We have to save some money for old age or illness. We have to plan for the future. However, we should not worry.
Between the “sterile” sighing and the inert “waiting” lies opening our eyes to what is to come and facing the challenges of today. The answer to life must be given today – and then in an uninterrupted succession of “today “s -. It has to be built, today by today, brick by brick, like a house is built. Today I can stop smoking. Today, just 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 immerse ourselves in what we are doing. To invest all our intelligence, all our enthusiasm in the activity at hand, to make it as beautiful and fruitful as 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… he lives, without distractions, the message of the present. A gift that translates into attention, responsibility, awareness that he will not profit from the great occasions that arise tomorrow, if he does not take advantage of the modest and banal daily occasions.
Our friend Dr. Osler had on his desk the poem “Greeting at Dawn” by the Indian Kalidasa. It ends: “Take good care of today / This is the greeting at dawn”.
I prefer the words of Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made / Let us rejoice 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: Benjamin Wedemeyer)