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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Friday, April 07, 2006

Vita Brevis

It always fascinates me to see how people discern time.

For some, it means nothing. They amble along from day to day without thought to what the time actually is or how they are utilising it. Others rush from one matter to another, constantly checking their watches as though some great disaster is looming. For us all, I suppose that big disaster is actually death, although not everyone sees it in the same way.

I confess to being a mixture of both. During the week, I am driven by the clock – time to start surgeries, time for visits, time for meetings, etc. At weekends, I am very different. On a Friday afternoon my watch is taken off and does not resume its place on my wrist until Monday morning. I spend the weekend semi-oblivious to the precise time of day.

That said, I do not like to waste time. Not even at weekends. I am very conscious of the finite amount of time we have in life. I am driven by an urge to make every minute count for something, even if it is by relaxing with a good book. Rudyard Kipling’s If comes to mind:

‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run…’

For me, the need is to ensure that I do everything I wish to do here and now. After all, although I hope to live healthily into my eighties or even my nineties, there was no guarantee of longevity issued when the stork delivered me. I am constantly reminded through my work as a physician that death has a nasty habit of creeping up on people of all ages when they are least suspecting it. I am uncertain as to who first wrote the following lines, but I came across them in The Dead Poets Society:

‘I do not wish to find, when I come to die
That I have not lived.’


As I said at the start of this piece, not everyone sees the subject in the same way. Take, for example, a lady I was treating during the last week. She is a lady in her late fifties who suffers from nothing more than a few trivial complaints. She happened to remark on the number of different activities I am involved with and questioned how I find the time. I remarked that I take the view that life is short and that one must make the most of it whilst one may. Her response was immediate:

“Oh, how can you say it is too short? I think it is far too long. I don’t think we ought to live beyond forty.”

The lady in question has no suicidal tendencies. Neither is she suffering from a serious illness. She simply has (and has had) no interest in what life can offer. My response was along the lines that if I had the good fortune to be able to extend my life by another lifetime, I would only then achieve about half of what I would really like to do. This led me to think that it would be nice to be able to purchase ‘extra years’ from those who felt they had surplus available!

The final word goes to Hippocrates (a Greek physician, c.460 – 357 BC) who said:

‘Time is that wherein there is opportunity, and opportunity is that wherein there is no great time.’

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