Today, I want to write about a talk that I recently attended. The speaker, Dr. Abraham Verghese, a well-renowned physician and author, was awarded an honorary degree by McMaster University.
I first heard of him through his contribution to the foreword of memoir by neurosurgery resident, late Dr. Paul Kalanithi. Dr. Kalinithi’s battle with mortality, portrayed through his writing, makes you realize how unpredictable life is and uninvited death can be. Similarly, Dr. Verghese’s talk, or rather the conversation with Dr. Verghese as it was called, provided me with a dose of much needed inspiration. He spoke in a tone that not only captivates the audience’s attention but also respect, answering questions candidly to give a sense that he is a man with humility. Of course it is difficult to judge a person from one encounter, and that too an indirect interaction. Maybe I was mesmerized by his eloquence and directness.
Or, maybe I fell victim to that effect (cannot recall the name) where you like someone famous more after meeting them simply because you met them. I am certain such an effect exists and I learnt about it in one of my psychology courses, but of course I cannot seem to recall the effect or to which concept it is related. This may not be the first time I experienced this ‘effect.’ I believe it to be quite common although it goes unnoticed, as most of the time we do not question ourselves on why we feel the way we feel. From what I remember, and from what makes most sense, the reason why we like people more after meeting them is due to something called the familiarity effect. Description is pretty intuitive — the more familiar we are with someone, the more we like them.
To come back to Dr. Verghese’s talk, his opinion on two points stuck in memory more than others. Firstly, when asked about his career as both a physician and an author, he corrected the questioner by saying that he does not identify himself separately as physician and author. Instead, he identifies as a physician and believes that writing is something that comes naturally to all of us — essentially suggesting we are all authors. I have to say I agree with him on this. We have authored, or will author, some sort of writing in the course of our lifetime — be it a book published by a reputed press; a newspaper article highlighting an opinion, or disputing another’s opinion; a personal diary of a young girl [Anne Frank]; or a blog. I can relate to Dr. Verghese’s point because although you may not consider me to be an author, I like to believe I am one. Not because I am famous for my writing, or because my writing inspires many, but because writing is my way of speaking out even if no one is listening. To me, an author is someone who writes a story or shares an opinion, not necessarily someone who sits at a typewriter (or computer) all day to produce something that will help make ends meet.
Secondly, Dr. Verghese grabbed the attention of the already captivated audience by saying these simple, but somber, words: We are all going to die. Followed by, ‘Hope this does not come as a surprise to you.’ As mentioned by Dr. Verghese, and also told by Dr. Kalanithi, an encounter with mortality — or the thought of it — is a grim wake up call to honour and celebrate life by doing what we love, or by loving what we do. In an eerie way, death — or rather the fear of it — inspires us to live. Something to think about until next time!