Working title

I lost a colleague last week. I’d taken my daughter to him a few times at the after-hours clinic and he was wonderful with her. He seemed to love kids. He used to make ice cream and bring it in for us to try. He had a very dark side. He said so in the note he left posted on the computer.

I knew him through our shared evenings with the sick. Evenings are ok, but I love mornings. I love the sounds, smells, peace. But where I found beauty, he found terror.

I’ve seen so much beauty. There’s a dad up front ordering a coffee now. His infant son is looking over his shoulder, knuckle in mouth, burbling. I’ve lain on my back in the cold watching meteors fall across the sky. Some are dim, colorless. Others flash bright blue, burning too quickly to share. Satellites slowly,steadily moving, but a friend tells me only boys care about satellites when there are shooting stars to see.

I’ve seen brown eyes in bed, green eyes in moonlight, round eyes impossibly large looking up in wordless wonder. I’ve seen my own eyes in the mirror, surprised to see my daughter’s staring back.

I’ve laughed. In my favorite wedding picture, my new wife and I are laughing by the lake. I’ve laughed hard at bad jokes, harder at good ones. I’ve cried giving bad news to patients, and again giving good news.

I’ve seen a world full of color, while some see only uniform, frightening grey.

I didn’t know my colleague very well, but I liked him. It’s not so much him I mourn, more the eyes that never saw beauty.

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  1. Kerstin Hanson

     /  September 26, 2012

    Am also deeply saddened that someone who brought so much joy and happiness to others could not himself find the joy and happiness that he so deserved.

  2. Well said Peter.

  3. Old Geezer

     /  September 26, 2012

    Sadly, some people never realize the void they will leave until they create it by their absence.

  4. Shirah

     /  September 26, 2012

    Alav hashalom. My heart goes out to him and his family.

  5. Isis the Scientist

     /  September 27, 2012


  6. DLC

     /  September 28, 2012

    Never a good thing to lose someone like that, even if they weren’t especially close.

  7. saffronrose

     /  September 29, 2012

    One thing about my father that I mourn is that he never seemed to find his way to happiness, never saw the hurt he inflicted on others, and didn’t have a way that he could accept, given his generation and being in the military, to change that.

    There are those of us who at times believe we would leave our loved ones and the world better for dying. Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand that particular level of pain thoroughly. Yes, in my howmany? depressions, I’ve had suicidal ideations, and only once did I start planning, because the despair was so deep and the pain of being miserable AND making others around me that way as well was inescapable. One is completely unable to see any way out of that nadir, or believe there might be a way that could work. Before I started toward the proper medication, all I could see for my future was a line of depressions coming out of nowhere, that would be longer, deeper, harder to treat, and more frequent. I didn’t, and do not, want such a future. Perhaps your colleague was at that point, I can’t know.

    When I knew what hypomanias were, I found that any time I saw colors, heard sounds, and felt emotions more intensely, and felt better because of it, I was in one, and as quick as that, it would go away. No four days minimum for me–four hours more like. Sometimes the sudden departure of the good mood did put me in a sad/angry place. Having the feeling that anytime you feel good, even only a little better than usual, is the sign of something gone wrong–you have a problem being optimistic or enjoying the beauty you can see, but not trust.

    I’m sad for your colleague, and for your loss of his company. Follow your usual routine with folks–you never know when you’ve planted a seed that could change despair to hope, in a chance conversation.

  8. Barbarella

     /  October 3, 2012

    “It’s empathy, compassion, and changes to families and societies that help improve our quality of life. And perhaps the judicious use of some medications.’
    This quote comes from your most recent blog. When you write about problems of failure to investigate factual data involved in medical conundrums, or about the exhausting life of a practicing physician, your column is fascinating and helpful.
    But Working Title is not one of your best. Re-read it and look at how many times you refer to the things that bring YOU joy. Your assumption that HE never saw or missed beauty was flawed. All you can say is the things that YOU saw as beauty. You go on to say that it is not so much your colleague you mourn (!!!) but eyes that never saw beauty. I find your blog to be completely lacking empathy, to put yourself in another person’s place and see the world as he or she does. This is particularly troubling in a doctor. People with severe depression and mental illness do recognize beauty, doctor. We can even create it. But until you have lived in a closed system of life where, for whatever reason (and I don’t deny it might include brain damage) there is no joy, no reward, no peace, no connection to other people….then please don’t blame us for our failure to give ourselves a reason to live.
    I have run into this deeply frightening lack in many doctors, even those working in psychiatry. The best therapist I ever had, who is retired now, visited me in the hospital and gently asked me, “It is natural that you have no pity for yourself. But think back to one person in your life, who loved you and wanted the best for you. Stop and think of that person before you judge or hurt yourself.”
    That is empathy.
    I have been living on his words for fifteen years.

    And please do mourn your colleague. Beauty was there in his world, too. Just beyond the touch of his fingertips.

  9. Im not arguing that “depressed people” as a class have no eye for beauty. As you know, there’s a ton of talent coming from the large percentage of us with depression. I’m sorry I gave you that impression.

    This wasn’t a piece about “depressed people” but one person, a particular person, who had a too brief and troubled life, one where the beauty most of us recognize was hidden to him. This was how I felt about what he did, and I write what I feel.

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