ButWhatFor Four for Friday | No. 028

Let it be enough, beautiful in the way a forest fire is beautiful, how doctors die, and the hotel room minibar

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ButWhatFor Four for Friday


One Quote

If such a man is wise, he will gladly do the thing that is next, when the time and the need come together, without asking what the future holds for him. Let the half-god play his part well and manfully, and then be content to draw aside when the god appears. Nor should he feel vain regrets that to another it is given to render greater services and reap a greater reward.

Let it be enough for him that he too has served, and that by doing well he has prepared the way for the other man who can do better.

Theodore Roosevelt, Autobiography

In this section of his autobiography, Roosevelt discusses how he came to terms with the navigation of bureaucracy and pragmatism-versus-idealism tradeoffs required to be an effective politician.

One of his key conclusions was the need to focus on doing your best work with the acceptance that any one person often cannot alone make a difference, and that you are often not the hero in the story.

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One Long

Good Omens [Book]

“I thought your side disapproved of guns,” said Crowley. He took the gun from the angel’s plump hand and sighted along the stubby barrel.

“Current thinking favors them,” said Aziraphale. “They lend weight to moral argument. In the right hands, of course.”

But he liked seeing nuns around, in the same way that he liked seeing the Salvation Army. It made you feel that it was all all right, that people somewhere were keeping the world on its axis.

“You see, evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction. It is ultimately negative, and therefore encompasses its downfall even at its moments of apparent triumph. No matter how grandiose, how well-planned, how apparently foolproof of an evil plan, the inherent sinfulness will by definition rebound upon its instigators. No matter how apparently successful it may seem upon the way, at the end it will wreck itself. It will founder upon the rocks of iniquity and sink headfirst to vanish without trace into the seas of oblivion.”

Crowly considered this. “Nah,” he said at last. “For my money, it was just average incompetence.”

It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

She was beautiful, but she was beautiful in the way a forest fire was beautiful: something to be admired from a distance, not up close.

Sometimes it is good to not take everything so seriously. I love Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and I had far too serious of a week, so bringing this one to the top of my re-reading list for a break from all of that.

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One Short

How Doctors Die

Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds – from 5 percent to 15 percent – albeit with a poor quality of life.

Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.

It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us…

What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

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One Extra

I laughed at this because it was both 1) funny and 2) true for me still. The things learned early in life are often forgotten with great difficulty. I have found that true also of things learned when first starting out on something new.

For example, I studied Korean for a bit and ended up living in the country for a time — and there is a word that is tough to say for beginning non-native speakers that, regardless, you have to use early on: 어려워요 (meaning: difficult). It’s basically a string of vowels with no consonants, and the first two vowels are not really used in English.

Thus, I had great stress associated with the pronunciation of that word, from the very start. A couple of years later, I was fairly fluent with passable pronunciation, but every time I encountered that word, I was stressed.

I think there is a lesson in there somewhere, but I am not sure what it is… thoughts?

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Have a great weekend,

— EJ


Latest from ButWhatFor

I failed you!

I apologize as I had a couple of family health scares — both not COVID-related — that required my attention last week and this week. Both are trending much better than we could have logically hoped!

I will be back next week on the normal schedule.


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