When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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My favorite passage from this book:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.


bodies Today during a meeting I remembered this blind date I went on during the 90s. He was Korean and in med school, someone introduced by mom, like one of her friends’ kids, so this was a dream match in every which way you can think of for my mother. In fact, she occasionally bemoans the fact she never married this short doctor her dad set her up with in the good old days. My date was nice enough, definitely richer than I was. I noted a fancy car, clothing, etc. At the time, I was in my bohemian publishing days, wearing a lot of dresses paired with vintage mens suit vests, platform shoes, and big earrings. When I was in publishing, everyone wanted to tell me a story that they thought would be book-worthy. That night, this young man told me a story about how he and his friends played a joke by taking one of the bodies from the lab (morgue? Who knows? Where do med students get bodies?) and snuck it into his friend’s bed, so that when the girlfriend came home, she would flip out while they hid in the closet. My date thought this was hilarious.

Sigh. Unfortunately, I was not destined to live out my mother’s greatest wishes. In response to the story, I think I had a good handle on an icy, righteous tone and death stares. I remember talking a long time, saying things like “that’s not why people donate their bodies to science” and “I don’t think it’s funny when you get in your bed expecting your boyfriend and finding a corpse instead.” I doubt I deflated the guy’s ego but he was very quiet after that.

Tough Asians Vs. Soft Americans

team-usa_2270673b My mom has been taking a free writing workshop in a local library. In response to “Describe one of your first trips as a kid,” she wrote about fleeing from Seoul to the countryside to escape the Korean War when she was four.

Me: Oh my god, that is so funny and awesome.
Mom: What are you talking about?
Me: Because normally to topics like that, people are expecting something like “oh I remember having ice cream on the boardwalk” or “flying a kite with my grandparents.” No, you straight up to go to “There was the Korean War. I was scared to go on the ox cart because the wheels were shaky. I was four, we were fleeing the city.”

My mom likes to say how Americans are very soft compared to tough Asians, that we think too much and are easily discouraged. This is usually after she hears me kvetch about life. I used to hear this sentiment as an insult, but I’ve recently countered that yes, tough Asians truly are tough! Americans truly are soft! But whom would you rather have a beer with? Who’s going to be a better listener? Thank you. One point for us Team Soft Americans. USA! USA!

Aging Out

K2,_Mount_Godwin_Austen,_Chogori,_Savage_Mountain I’m editing my mom’s essays and this paragraph cracked me up so much:

“In old days in Asia if grandma or grandpa reached the time to go, their son bring them to deep forest in mountain and leave them there.”

I just am wild about that sentence. I love it to death. This matter-of-fact, harsh way of dealing tickles me endlessly. Ugh, what a gem.

Here’s the solution to our aging population crisis in the U.S. you guys! See you on that mountain, Mom!

P.S. It might be one of those things that only I find funny.