My chest is heaving. The air I rapidly suck into my lungs does not seem to be adequate as I immediately gasp for another breath. My heart is pounding, trying to escape the confines of the sternum that lies over it. The waves of nausea are somewhat overshadowed by a brewing headache. To put it bluntly, I feel like crap. My eyes gaze towards the clock on the wall and to my dismay it’s only 5:40 AM. Twenty more minutes of hell stand between me and relief. And I can’t help question for a moment why am I here again?
There are times when I get a bit more reflective. Often later in the evening, with a cup of coffee in hand after a long day at work. I come home to a quiet house, the family still out and about somewhere. I plop down on the couch and as I drift into that place that’s not quite sleep, I imagine a meeting. Dinner maybe? At a quiet restaurant. Lights dimmed and the place quiet. A solo bartender and a single server are there for the lone smallish circular table set for three. Two of us are already there, waiting on the third. I am there, sitting down, looking across the table at myself. Sort of. More hair, but not so grey, on quite a fuller face. Smoother skin around the eyes. My doppelganger has a beer in hand, a Bass Ale (my go to drink ten years ago). I’ve got a blue moon or a 312. Ten years. That is the span between us. What would I say? What would I tell my younger self. What words of wisdom could be passed on? And my younger self…what could he remind me today?
A lot of cliches come to mind at this point. Play harder, work less. Spend more time with family. Get outside, read, laugh, run, hide, travel more, get a jeep a few years earlier. But although all true, they seem vague, less practical, and frankly not realistic. The past is fixed. This is a blog, not science fiction. No changing history. No buying stock in Starbucks or Apple.
I would tell me (the younger me) a few things. First I would tell myself to write down those bedtime stories. Oh how I miss those made up tales with the kids as “heroes”. I would tell them over and over as they lay in bed at night. I thought NO WAY I’d forget about them. Impossible. But I have… I’d tell the younger me to enjoy the moments more. Not get so wrapped up in worrying about “later” but practice enjoying the “now“. I’d try and remind myself to keep in better touch with my college friends who are now scattered across the country. Midlife brings on nostalgia and my appreciation for those high school and college friendships only grows stronger and fonder with each passing year. I would remind myself to cherish and focus on the positive interactions with my patients and families (from the mundane of converting someone to a non-smoker to surviving severe pneumonia) instead of dwelling on the deaths and the losses and those that suffer side effect or complications.
The younger me takes this all in. He takes a long pull from the Bass Ale and puts it down. I stare into his eyes….my eyes… And I see in them an optimism I once had. Maybe a bit of naivete too. I mean this guy still thinks the Cubs are gonna win it all this year with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. I see the sparkle… looking forward to the yearly trips with Beck to our getaway bed and breakfast in Galena. To the long letters on anniversaries declaring my love and recounting the challenges faced and overcome the year prior. I see mixed in with the energy and optimism a bit of self-doubt. Do I know enough? Am I trained enough? Will I make the right decisions for my patients? Will I make the right decisions for my kids? I see the worry and want to make it go away. I want to give this younger me a gift…share some of what little wisdom I have obtained over these past ten years.
The third seat stays empty. And as we finish our beers I realize the gift is not for my younger self but for me…Now. “Wisdom” can’t be given or gifted. It’s earned through experience. Through living with the results of decisions made, both good and bad. But the wide eyed optimism, the energy, the nervous excitement…That can be recaptured. It’s not the old me that needs to stop worrying about the future, but my current self that needs to practice living in the moment. That last seat won’t be taken. At least not for another 10 years. I wonder what my future self would say to me now. Ten years ago I could never have predicted where I’d be today. Would not have even been in the ball park. But the future is not for me to know. Not yet, anyway. The next chapter is still to be written with all possibilities still open.
We get up to leave, no need to really say anything. But as this dream starts to fade, I quickly turn to the younger me and say “Thanks…” And as we part ways, I can’t help myself, and I quickly blurt out one bit of advice…”Hey…in 2011, watch out for that pot hole at mile 109 of the triathlon…it’s a bitch!”