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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 5 chapter 7)

2006-08-22 20:49

  7

  Leaving Zurich for Prague a few years earlier, Tomas had quietly said to himself, Es muss sein! He was thinking of his love for Tereza. No sooner had he crossed the border, however, than he began to doubt whether it actually did have to be. Later, lying next to Tereza, he recalled that he had been led to her by a chain of laughable coincidences that took place seven years earlier (when the chief surgeon's sciatica was in its early stages) and were about to return him to a cage from which he would be unable to escape.

  Does that mean his life lacked any Es muss sein!, any overriding necessity? In my opinion, it did have one. But it was not love, it was his profession. He had come to medicine not by coincidence or calculation but by a deep inner desire.

  Insofar as it is possible to divide people into categories, the surest criterion is the deep-seated desires that orient them to one or another lifelong activity. Every Frenchman is different. But all actors the world over are similar-in Paris, Prague, or the back of beyond. An actor is someone who in early childhood consents to exhibit himself for the rest of his life to an anonymous public. Without that basic consent, which has nothing to do with talent, which goes deeper than talent, no one can become an actor. Similarly, a doctor is someone who consents to spend his life involved with human bodies and all that they entail. That basic consent (and not talent or skill) enables him to enter the dissecting room during the first year of medical school and persevere for the requisite number of years.

  Surgery takes the basic imperative of the medical profession to its outermost border, where the human makes contact with the divine. When a person is clubbed violently on the head, he collapses and stops breathing. Some day, he will stop breathing anyway. Murder simply hastens a bit what God will eventually see to on His own. God, it may be assumed, took murder into account; He did not take surgery into account. He never suspected that someone would dare to stick his hand into the mechanism He had invented, wrapped carefully in skin, and sealed away from human eyes. When Tomas first positioned his scalpel on the skin of a man asleep under an anesthetic, then breached the skin with a decisive incision, and finally cut it open with a precise and even stroke (as if it were a piece of fabric-a coat, a skirt, a curtain), he experienced a brief but intense feeling of blasphemy. Then again, that was what attracted him to it! That was the Es muss sein! rooted deep inside him, and it was planted there not by chance, not by the chief's sciatica, or by anything external.

  But how could he take something so much a part of him and cast it off so fast, so forcefully, and so lightly?

  He would respond that he did it so as not to let the police misuse him. But to be quite frank, even if it was theoretically possible (and even if a number of cases have actually occurred), it was not too likely that the police would make public a false statement over his signature.

  Granted, a man has a right to fear dangers that are less than likely to occur. Granted, he was annoyed with himself and at his clumsiness, and desired to avoid further contact with the police and the concomitant feeling of helplessness. And granted, he had lost his profession anyway, because the mechanical aspirin-medicine he practiced at the clinic had nothing in common with his concept of medicine. Even so, the way he rushed into his decision seems rather odd to me. Could it perhaps conceal something else, something deeper that escaped his reasoning?

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