One of the decided luxuries of retirement is the opportunity to read for pleasure in the middle of the day, which probably doesn’t come natural to most of us. It took me quite a while to overcome a sense of decadence and guilt when I sit down in an easy chair with a good book in the middle of a workday. But I’m getting there. My preference for reading is history, with occasional fiction. And I still enjoy scientific literature, although I find that I understand it less and less.
I have recently become fascinated in reading about the controversies among physicists concerning how everything in our universe seems to be connected, from the concept of quantum entanglement, in which paired particles are somehow dependent on each other’s behavior; to the string theory, in which particles that are separated by vast distances seem to be influenced by each other. Now believe me, I don’t have a clue what all this means, but I vaguely get the idea that everything in the universe is somehow related to and dependent upon everything else.
Certainly, atomic particles are related. If electrons didn’t maintain their assigned orbits around their nucleus of protons and neutrons, everything we know would fall apart. The same could be said for our solar system, as the planets maintain their assigned orbits around our sun. We continue to learn how everything in our universe appears to be connected by forces that are still only vaguely understood.
As I have pondered this apparent connectivity of every physical thing in our world, I couldn’t help being struck by the parallel relationship within the human race. We are certainly dependent on each other in many ways. I guess this is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading history, in that it gives me a sense of our connectedness throughout all the generations that have gone before us, not only in passing on ever advancing knowledge and technology, but also in the basic hopes and dreams that have been shared by societies down through the ages.
Of course, examples of human connectivity closer to home are the relationships we enjoy within our families and close circle of friends. The recent advances in human DNA testing have not only provided a blueprint for the evolution and migration of our race but have allowed each of us to go back through our generations to discover where we have come from. Who can deny the intimate bonds that connect us within our immediate families as we hold in our hearts the memories and lessons of those who have died, support each other within our current family units and plan and hope for the best for our future generations. Much the same can be said of our connections with our dearest friends.
As I have thought about all these human connections, I am reminded of how fortunate you and I have been to enjoy the associations we have experienced in our medical careers and especially as ophthalmologists. Again, there has been the sharing of ever advancing knowledge and technology over the generations, to which we have been privileged to contribute with the hope that it will add to the foundation on which continued advances will be made. On a more personal level, I suspect we can all look back to role models who got us started long ago and to all the priceless friendships we made with colleagues along our professional journey. Now, as we ease into our retirement years, we can all take pride in the new generation of ophthalmologists whom we may have influenced in some way as the connectivity continues.
So, as we sit back in our easy chairs in the middle of the day with a good book in our lap, hopefully without any sense of guilt, maybe we can pause for a moment to reflect on how fortunate we have been to be a part of this continuum of humanity and of our distinguished profession.
P.S. I wrote this before the coronavirus became such a dominant part of our lives, but somehow it seems to make thoughts of human connectivity all the more important (although, for now, we must reach out with our hearts and not our hands). Just today, I saw the following quote by Thomas Merton, which seems to bring our current situation into focus: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”