In my first job as a nurse, I worked exclusively with stroke and traumatic brain injury patients. To say that this was a learning experience, both as a nurse and as a human being, would be a bit of an understatement. Each person I took care of had suffered and immediate and catastrophic event that would forever change the course of their lives. Some were reduced to existing in a persistent vegetative state, others were still able to function to varying degrees. The ones I felt had the best outcomes (mind you, this is an arguable point) were those who retained most of their cognitive abilities and were left with physical deficits. Some had been wealthy and powerful, others were homeless – it made no difference to me. I tried to give the best care I was capable of to each one.
But it struck me that all of them, at least those with some cognitive function left, shared a similar focus of what was important. And in no case was it money, fame, power, or even accomplishments. It was always about their relationships with other people, good or bad. It was about regrets or gratitude, about love or the lack thereof. About friendship and betrayal, about not understanding what was important until it was too late. I came away from this experience with a very different outlook than when I went in.
We are all dying – it’s just the nature of life. We can choose to try and do good, or we can choose to live in a selfish and desperate struggle for wealth and power. In the end, we all die, and no amount of money, fame, or power can save you. When you are dead, all of those things that consumed your life are left with the living. Your legacy is simply what lives on in the memories of those who knew you, and whatever you left behind that might help or hinder humanity.
So to me, politics and the naked lust for power is folly. All that really matters is choosing to live each moment in a way that will leave this mess a little better for whoever comes along next. None of us are really that important, no matter what we might like to think. Someday you are going to be laying on a bed dying, and I hope you have a good nurse who treats you kindly, with respect and dignity. I can promise you, at that moment, politics won’t enter your mind at all. How you treated other people is all you’re going to be thinking about. I’ve seen it – and sometimes it can be a tragically painful thing to watch.