Norman Cousins wrote the book that inspired me to become a physician back in 1979. It was
called Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. When I was in Medical School, his
book The Healing Heart lifted me up when I was exhausted and frustrated with the grueling
work that was shaping me into a physician. In my second year, I stayed home from school and
read it in one day…then wrote him a letter to thank him for the timely effect on my psyche his
words of hope and comfort had imparted to my heart. He graciously wrote me back and
encouraged me to keep going. I treasure that letter.

Recently, I went back to order The Healing Heart on Amazon for a friend who I thought might
also be inspired by the book and I found another book by Norman Cousins that I had never read.
It is called The Celebration of Life, a dialogue on Hope, Spirit, and the Immortality of the Soul.
This book is written in a Socratic dialogue format and is a survey of modern science, philosophy,
religion, physics, politics, ecology, and the biology of the human spirit. It was my inspiration this
weekend. What I can share with you is that it is an optimistic conversation that supports a
hopeful view of the future grounded in the recognition of our common humanity. I needed his
words again, and once again I was inspired and comforted by them.

Let us start with this: He says “We may have no jurisdiction over the fact of our existence, but we are
not barred from imparting meaning to that existence. The tragedy of life is not in the fact of death, but in
what dies inside a person while he or she lives. No person need fear death; we need fear only that we may
die without having known our greatest power—the power of our free will to give of our life to others.”
Have you felt that sense of something dying inside you? I have, and these words struck a chord
in me. I remember the blog I wrote when I was going through the process of getting a hip
replacement in 2012. On Saturday, May 12, 2012, I wrote a friend with grief hope is.
I was one month out from the surgery. Here was the turning point for me of moving from feeling
something dying inside me to feeling my life force return and sustain me in a vision for the future.

I looked squarely into the face of both hope and despair. I felt as if my heart and my body had
closed off and doubted they would ever make it back to being my vehicles for expressing myself
again. Yet I hoped that the surgery could possibly help me come back to life. I had been so tired
and in so much pain for so long that it seemed I might not be able to come back. I compared the
emotional colors of grief (sorrow, heartbreak, heartache, bereft, bereaved, mourning, sorrow) and
hope (trust, desire, feeling, want, promise, expectancy, anticipation, initiative, somebody, soul,
individual) and I saw myself living in the tension of the paradox created by their juxtaposition.
I realized then how hope and despair come together in healing. They are like ingredients in a
chemical reaction. With the acknowledgement of what we have lost coming together with what
has been restored in us, in our life with others, in our recognition of our common humanity,
there is a spark of hope created to once again light the fire of our spirit within us.

We can put our hope in others, but in the depth of transformation, within our self, we find grief
gives birth to hope, which is not gone, just gone missing. It is within our self that the birth of
hope lives. We don’t have to name it or give credit to another for it. It just lives inside, waiting to
be found. Others may be here to nurture it, keep it going, but we must with our imagination find it
and connect with it. With compassion for our own suffering, we can see ourselves for what we
really are. Cousins called it “individual cells, in the immortal body of humanity.” We are
individuated, but part of the larger whole as well. There is something beyond us waiting to
spark us if our fire goes out, and it looks, to our surprise, like us. Is there really such a thing as
elf and other? Perhaps all things are really connected, and we are truly more alike than
different. This is what I think Cousins means by the recognition of our common humanity. When
we are suffering, we may feel we are isolated and disconnected, but we never really are. With
our imagination, we can reach out and connect to the past and be inspired by those who have
show us the way, to the present and be connected to those who love and care for us, and to the
future to imagine what we may yet have to offer. This gives us a reason for being here and a
sense of continuity with the integration of experiences that have brought us to this point.

Let’s be honest. Life is difficult. There are many obstacles and it can be hard to see the way
ahead. Look regularly to the wise words recorded by those who have come through life’s
difficulties and let them inspire you. Learn from what they share with you and apply this to
cultivate your way of being in the world and let that guide your actions. Remember we are all
part of the continuity of the flow of human experience. Live like who you are and what you do
will impact the future of every person on earth for better or worse, because it will. If you don’t
see how the way your life is contributing to the lives of others, it is time to exercise your free will
and make choices that will give you a reason for being here that connects you to the source of
your inspiration and gives you hope for a better world.