Do you remember the kid’s game, Would You Rather? Would you rather have pins in your eyes or your ears? Would you rather eat only hotdogs or only ice cream for a week? And on and on…
What came to mind is the true story of Jack, a grade school friend, who was charged with Medicare fraud. Jack was a GP and sentenced to six months in a federal prison. The prison happened to be located on the same air force base in Florida, where I was stationed as a major (a psychiatrist) during the Viet Nam era. One “interesting” experience was the time that the base rabbi “invited” the medical staff to join him and his family as they hosted a bagels and lox brunch at the prison. The rabbi was a colonel and his “invitation” was actually a direct order. That morning dozens of doctors and prisoners shared the buffet and surprisingly, it was a pleasant experience.
Jack was incarcerated a few years after I completed my tour of duty, but the same rabbi was still hosting his monthly brunch. I assumed that Jack took full advantage of this prison perk.
A few years later, a good friend told me that after Jack got out of prison he decided to get divorced, give up his medical practice, and start a new life. Jack said, “Those six months were the best six months of my life. I never realized how miserable I was until I was sent to prison. It took prison to help me understand what I really wanted in life.” The last I heard, Jack had moved halfway across the country and was living “happily ever after”.
Our lives are finite and if we don’t make the most of them we waste an irreplaceable commodity. As most cancer survivors have learned, every moment we are alive and comfortable is a treasure.
What we show the world is often just the tip of the iceberg. Our true selves are often hidden below the surface, undiscoverable to the world and often to ourselves. Not only do we have the chance in Plato (*) to learn about subjects that interest us, we have more disposable time and this gives us more time to learn and think about who we really are and what we really want.
How many people give themselves the opportunity to listen to their own thoughts, and explore their own feelings? Do you need to have the radio on when you’re driving? How often do you just drive in silence or just sit in silence, letting your thoughts fill the void? Do you think about your dreams and take a shot at analyzing them? Do you ask friends and spouses what they observe about you and then do you take what they say and actually think about it?
Luckily, we have a chance to think about ourselves without having to get divorced or have a bagel brunch with the rabbi. Would you rather be in prison or be divorced? I choose neither. I choose to live each day with the opportunity to try and understand what’s really important to me. I recommend that for all of us.
*Plato is an independent group associated with UCLA that is dedicated to lifelong learning. It attracts all ages and many professors, physicians, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and anyone who loves the thrill of learning new things.
If you enjoyed reading, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist, you might also enjoy Dr. Smukler’s novels, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.