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    Tuesday, March 28, 2023

    Events mark the chapters of our lives

    Life’s chapters are divided by big events.

    Big events come as calamities and happy events. Births and weddings, of course, but people seem to remember the bad events even more. Everyone who has a heart attack knows the date and time and mark it as the moment they stopped smoking, started exercising, started eating right.

    Everyone in my parent’s generation know where they were when Kennedy was assassinated. I was born the following year, and growing up, whenever I’d hear people share where they were that day, I always felt like I missed something.

    My generation had 9/11. I remember exactly where I was. I was in my fellowship in cardiology, and we were in the cath lab trying to open the artery of a man who just had a heart attack. One of the techs popped his head into the room and said, “A plane flew into the World Trade Center. It’s all over television.”

    A little later, he came back and said, “A second plane just hit the second tower. We are under attack.”

    We froze a second. The attending physician snapped us back to the issue at hand: “Let’s focus everyone.” Thankfully, the patient did well. But after, we watched on television as people jumped, the buildings collapsed and our lives changed.

    Of course, it doesn’t have to be world-changing events that mark the chapters of our lives. My friend, Brian Williams, told me how he worked an entire day to make an intricate pie one holiday. When no one was looking, the dog jumped up on the counter to devour his culinary masterpiece. It was a catastrophe, all the work gone to waste. Brian looks at it a different way. “We could have eaten that pie, and it would have been just another good pie like every other year,” he said. “But instead, we will really remember that pie as the pie the dog ate.”

    One Easter in Italy, my mother-in-law made her famous artichokes to bring to Easter dinner. She put them in a glass tray in a white plastic bag. Next to that bag, there was another white bag, tied similarly, that contained garbage. The artichokes were accidentally thrown out, and the garbage was taken to the dinner. We only realized, halfway there, that we threw out the wrong bag. I had to dumpster dive to find the plastic bag of artichokes, which I insisted on eating (I was the only one, but they really were that good.) For the rest of her life, I always referred to my mother-in-law’s artichokes as “Carciofi alla patumiera” or “dumpster artichokes.”

    It's a new year. Another chapter. My daughter told me that the gym she goes to is unusually crowded with people trying to stick to their New Year’s resolutions, their new chapter. I hope these folks keep up their resolutions and chapter change without needing some health calamity. I often wonder whether the guy that had that heart attack on that day in 9/11 remembers more the World Trade towers or that it was the day he decided to stop smoking and start exercising.

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