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Don't Wait Until It's Too Late to Connect : *Relationships: It shouldn't require a life-threatening emergency for us to act on intuitive feelings.

December 31, 1995|HENRY CLARK | Henry Clark is professor emeritus of social ethics at USC. He feels just fine these days

I have just been given a new lease on life. The surgeon who installed my artificial heart valve said that without it my life expectancy would have been less than a year. Now my chances of living long enough to require a new battery for my pacemaker in 10 to 15 years are pretty good.

Yes, the miracle workers in cardiology have saved my life. Is it possible to conceive of a greater benefit? Maybe.

The conversation that takes place just before open heart surgery gets the full attention of all concerned. Your wife suddenly quits her altogether justifiable complaining about the miseries caused by a broken knee and concentrates all her energy on helping you. The son, who at various times has seemed alienated or indifferent, suddenly starts calling every day to find out how you are and tells you how much he loves you. The other kids knock themselves out to care for their laid-up mom, fixing meals and running errands. Former colleagues and graduate students do more than make token gestures of concern: They pick me up at the airport, get things for me at the drugstore or the library and stand by my bed, holding my hand or stroking my forehead. Even though I had been a faculty member in the school of religion, where people are expected to ponder the ultimate concerns of the spirit, we seldom had the kinds of conversations we did during my month in the hospital.

I find a powerful lesson in this story, one that may be especially important to ponder in this holiday season. What has been impressed upon me by my surgery, or rather by what happened in my mind and in my relationships with those closest to me, is the supreme value of elemental discourse with our loved ones. How does it happen that we so often allow ourselves to be deterred from cultivating profound engagement with others?

A few instruments of grace in this sadly bent world are the family gatherings and parties we associate with the holiday season (and often grumble about having to attend). If you are one of the many people who tend to regard such occasions as a drag, reconsider. They may present you with the best opportunity you'll ever have to strengthen your bond with a family member or friend. Don't postpone, don't be afraid and don't mistrust your deepest intuitive feelings in this matter. You just can't afford to miss what may be your last best chance to enrich your life and fulfill your destiny in the most significant way imaginable.

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