Reflections on Julius
by Carl Josehart
The son of immigrant parents, life had been hard for him. Not hard in the sense of not having enough money or a place to live – both of his parents were trained as physicians in their country or origin – but rather hard in the sense of feeling the burdens of being the first generation born in America. His parents’ singular dream was to have their son go to one of the best colleges in America and then follow in their footsteps and become a physician.
We were roommates my junior year of college; thrown together in that random way that universities do when they assign you a place in the dormitory system. Though not close friends we became close in the way that you have to when sharing a small living space with someone. He would tell me stories from his childhood, like how his father would never hug him without it turning into a physical examination where he would gently outline and name each bone and organ system – in his mind reinforcing the basic knowledge of anatomy that his son would need as a future physician.
His childhood had been organized around the singular focus of preparing him to enter university and once he began his undergraduate studies that same singular focus was applied to preparing for medical school. Night after night he would politely decline invitations from our group of friends to join us for dinner, a movie on the weekend, a trip to the zoo or to attend a party. It was always the same – he needed to study. Returning to the room later is was not uncommon for me to find him asleep on his open textbook. When he would wake upon hearing me enter the room I would often chuckle that he had the crease from his textbook lining his serious face. I often went to sleep with him in bed studying – using his blanket in a tent-like fashion to shield the light to allow me to sleep.
We lost touch after that year but I heard that he was accepted to an excellent medical school in the Midwest. It was a couple of years later that I got the call from one of my college friends. Julius is dead. He was killed by a drunk driver walking home from the medical school library at 2:00 in the morning. In those shocked moments I could picture the years since I had seen him last. I knew that he would have approached medical school with the same focus and drive that he tackled college. He would have delayed participating in social events; he would have politely declined invitations to allow more time for studying. He would have put off developing deep friendships or dating until graduation when in his mind he would have the time. I imagine that when graduation came he would have been accepted to a competitive residency program at a leading institution and I wondered if he would have continued to put off most of his life waiting for his studies to be over.
When I think of him I think of his intelligence and his potential -the vast untapped potential that the world never had the chance to fully experience. I think of all that he denied himself and put off to some undetermined date – waiting for his life to begin. The lessons of his loss are many. The overwhelming sense of the potential lost to the world is part of what drove me to a career in rehabilitation. A field where we see and value the potential in individuals that sometimes are overlooked by society – where it might be easy to overlook their potential for contribution but we devote ourselves to unlocking their ability to participate and contribute – to work, school, community or perhaps to family and relationships.
I also bring up Julius as an example for all of us. We all need to plan for the future; it is often prudent to set aside pleasures of today to work towards future goals – our children’s college education, a retirement fund, saving for our first home. But the lesson of Julius is that we also need to “spend” today. Spend our time, spend our love, and enjoy life now because today is all that we have for sure. I also talk about Julius because I want him to be remembered. He spent so much time investing in the future that he missed the chance to form friendships and attachments but I don’t want that kind and gentle person I came to know through the random room assignment process to be lost to the world. His largest accomplishments were yet to be but his devotion to prepare himself for a life of service as a physician should be honored and remembered.
I would challenge each of us to examine our life and look at what we are putting off – what are the things that we are waiting to do until we have more time. Life does not settle down. In fact, life speeds up and the years go by faster. As a child the time between summer vacations from school was an eternity. We lived an entire lifetime it seemed each year in school. Now the time between the start of one year and the next seems to be a blink of the eye. By the time we are comfortable writing the correct year on documents it seems we are preparing for the next year. Just as we have a strategic plan for our business that helps ensure that we don’t let the pressures of daily life lead us to miss the important priorities, perhaps we should also have a strategic plan for our lives that helps ensure that we don’t allow the hustle and bustle of daily life to distract us from the most important things in our personal life; things like family, community and friends.