Recently, a patient of mine died of cancer, whom I loved very much. She had a special way of enjoying life; a half, wise smile that after our many years together did not take me too seriously and reflected her deep inner strength. She taught me about joy; I will miss her always. Her husband, understanding my loss, said that it was alright, that I had done my best, that he would pray for me. He empathized more with my pain, my loss, than with his own.
This same morning, I learned of the slaughter at the Pulse. I was mourning the death of one person of a terrible, but natural disease, while at a night club, a place to celebrate life, friends and lovers in the middle of dance, were cut down. No illness, no fault, no natural process, just slaughter. My grief is barren, tiny, pathetic, in the dark light of that terror and loss.
I am devastated. With my hands, my mind and soul, I have dedicated my life to fighting the rotting, disgusting malady we call cancer. One patient, one battle. Win some. Lose an awful lot. But, always the purest fight, reaching for one more day or month or year of happiness and life. Build hope. Build families. Build a community. Small steps forward.
Then, the massacre. A greater rot. Killing in Florida. Connecticut. California. Israel. Afghanistan. Iran. France. Africa. Asia. We are so good at killing. We are much better at taking life than saving it. We could cure cancer, AIDS, hunger, poverty, but instead, we kill. It comes to us so easily. We are gifted at torture, rape, genocide, murder. Nature’s killers.
On mornings like this, while I am filling out one death certificate, but thinking of the inch-thick pile of morbid declarations on a bloody desk in Orlando, I do not know how to grieve. I spend years cherishing one life, scraping by slowly, scratching out special small moments, and in minutes, 50 are bodies on a floor. How can this possibly make sense? My deepest feeling is not sadness for those souls, but I wonder whether mankind, humanity itself, will survive. Are we a failed species?
A flower does not strangle its sister in jealously of another’s blossom. No animal drowns its young at the watering hole. Even viruses and bacteria do not consume their own. But, homo sapiens, who have the ability to build, heal and love, excel at species suicide. Man can remember the past, dream of the future, as demi-gods mold tomorrow, but they cannot tolerate the pain of memories, the fear of the future, the terror of mortality and are consumed by their own awesome power. So, they kill. Our great gift this earth is our ability to destroy it and ourselves.
As a physician, a healer, I desperately want to believe in the dream, the possibility of who we could be. So, I will mourn my patient because I loved her, as I love man. I will also mourn her because, in a small way, my pain, my loss, my prayers, might honor and hold close those who die on dance floors all over this world. Perhaps by remembering one small life and a single tiny death, the importance and beauty of each person, the possibility in peace, hope and love, we can find the path to save all of man.
We stand at the brink, a moment in time, when man will decide whether his time on this earth will end or if we will continue. Together on the dance floor. Will the sound be music or gunfire? We are Pulse.
James C. Salwitz is an oncologist who blogs at Sunrise Rounds.
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