“I went to the emergency room and X-rays revealed that the sutures holding my breastbone together were coming apart. So I had a second operation and a second reminder that intense boredom and exquisite pain can coexist just fine.” Burt Kempner
By Burt Kempner
GAINESVILLE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—2/4/2013—On January 20th, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. I would have loved to watch it, but I was busy fighting for my life.
I received a triple bypass that day. Given the sad state of my arteries, it was miraculous that I hadn’t dropped dead long before.
I remember waking up in the Intensive Care Unit, swimming in and out of morphine-induced sleep. I followed the advice of a wise friend who’d taught me to accept rather than resist pain.
I kept having a vision: I was crawling on my hands and knees through the woods. In the far distance, I could hear the sound of human voices. Every time the vision resumed, I was closer to the disembodied voices. After two days of determined crawling, I reached a clearing. My family and my dearest friends were sitting around a campfire and welcomed me joyously. At that moment, on January 22nd, I knew I would live. I still celebrate it as my rebirthday.
Five days after I was released from the hospital, I felt anything but right. Every time I breathed in or out, I heard a distinct crackling sound. I went to the emergency room and X-rays revealed that the sutures holding my breastbone together were coming apart. So I had a second operation and a second reminder that intense boredom and exquisite pain can coexist just fine.
I recuperated at home and, except for journeys measured in a few steps, did my best imitation of a still life for five weeks. There was nothing much to do but watch “Law & Order” re-runs and think. And wonder. And think again.
Why had I been granted a second chance? What was I meant to do now, a child of 64 summers? I’m old enough to know that I cannot change the entire world but I can change myself, and that, in turn, can activate the Butterfly Effect. If ever a time called out for reinvention, this was it. I changed.
I’m speaking to you now from the bottom of my new and improved heart. No flowery phrases, slick wordplay, or murky analogies. I’ve been given back the gift of life and I intend to pay it forward.
How? I don’t have a vast fortune to donate to the charitable causes I admire. I don’t command armies or boast my own influential news network. I’m a writer; no more, no less. These are the three gifts I have to offer you:
—Words. Let my prose and scripts always reflect my higher self. May I use them to heal; not to inflict wounds or pain. May I share beauty where I can find it and hope where I can’t.
—Passion. “Indifference” no longer exists in my vocabulary. I buried fear and doubt, too. I have no idea how much time is left to me, but I hope we will be together a long, long time. If my passion can somehow brighten your day or make you see something in a new or different way (or want to howl with me at the moon), so be it. I place it at your disposal.
—Gratitude. I’ve always loved life but never more than I do now. I’ve told some of you privately but I’m shouting it out now to anyone reading this: thank you! Thank you for the chance to put into words what has long been in my heart. Thanks for letting me risk (and perhaps succeed) in making a fool of myself.
My restored heart is full.