Recommended reading

In preparation for a routine medical checkup, a good friend of mine drafted a list of concerns to discuss with his physician.

Even though my friend’s life now spans seven decades, he remains in reasonably good health.  Like most of us, he’s got some minor issues related to the wear and tear of his body over time, but nothing insurmountable.

He sat and thought and jotted a few items down on paper.  First he listed his current medications.  Then he wrote a short note to remind himself to mention the problem of his ongoing knee pain.  After that he recorded his concern about his recent inability to remember where he puts things.  Lastly, he added a particularly worrisome problem—inability to rest at night because of recurring bad dreams.

My friend enjoys talking with his doctor, because, as he puts it, his doctor always takes the time to listen.

Whenever my friend checks in with the receptionist for his scheduled appointment, he always inquires just how far behind the doctor is running.  The usual answer falls somewhere between one to two hours.  Undaunted, my friend takes a seat and opens whatever reading material he has brought along to pass the time until the nurse calls his name.

One recent morning over breakfast my friend shared the notes he had taken down during this latest doctor visit.  One by one we reviewed the issues.  When it came to the sleep problem, I asked him what his doctor had advised.

“Oh, he said I should read Thoreau’s Walden,” he told me.  “He feels that it’s a good book to cleanse the mind.”

On hearing this advice, I smiled.  I re-read Walden every spring.  Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been plagued with disturbing dreams for years.

Walden is melting apace. There is a canal two rods wide along the northerly and westerly sides, and wider still at the east end. A great field of ice has cracked off from the main body. I hear a song sparrow singing from the bushes on the shore,—olit, olit, olit,chip, chip, chip, che char,che wiss, wiss, wiss. He too is helping to crack it. How handsome the great sweeping curves in the edge of the ice, answering somewhat to those of the shore, but more regular! It is unusually hard, owing to the recent severe but transient cold, and all watered or waved like a palace floor. But the wind slides eastward over its opaque surface in vain, till it reaches the living surface beyond. It is glorious to behold this ribbon of water sparkling in the sun, the bare face of the pond full of glee and youth, as if it spoke the joy of the fishes within it, and the sands on its shore,—a silvery sheen as from the scales of a leuciscus, as it were all one active fish. Such is the contrast between winter and spring. Walden was dead and is alive again. (“Spring” in Walden)