It’s that time of year again. How trite it is to say how fast the year went, but it’s true. I’ve now finished my third year in my second career and intend to keep going. A far cry from doing some part-time work to get me out of the house; I’m going 24/7/365 and still with enough goals left to accomplish that I’m actually looking forward to 2024. And pleasantly I’m OK with continuing on. But there’s still a sense of conclusion as the end of the year approaches. Typically my column in December is full of cheer and goodwill, and not infrequently includes a homily or a nod to Charles Dickens. However I think I’ve milked that as much as I can and really am content this year to simply be more content, to have a sense of peace and being grounded that eludes me and perhaps many of you, during the course of the year. The mad dash of day to day, putting out fires with the knowledge that tomorrow there will be more of them without end. And enjoying the holidays really does work better if you’re not chasing something trivial and mundane. It’s a concept I’ve known for years but failed to achieve repeatedly. To grasp it, it requires standing back a bit, taking yourself out of the ‘flux.’ 

Part of achieving this sense of Zen will also require me to stand down from my constant monitoring of the world at large. The realization came to me that I can’t really do a lot about all the awful and evil things happening at the moment. I mean I can and should stand up and support truth, justice and our democracy. But on a day-to-day basis, my mental health would be far better served to reflect on what I personally can and have accomplished rather than the chaos that surrounds me. It’s a fine line between doom scrolling and checking out completely. It involves a more considered approach to the challenges and tasks in front of you. You have to sort out what needs to be done, what ought to be done and what can be done. Part of that comes from knowing and appreciating where you’ve been and where you are now. To do this, you need a moment of contemplation, a pause to consider. I’m so used to reflexively responding to stimuli, to the world around me. It’s an impetuousness common in the young, and intemperate in the mature. I’m trying to take a moment, even a split second before responding verbally. To actually hear and see and then think, instead of saying something immediately, or rushing in, I might stop and smile. Acknowledge quietly. It gets an amazing response, perhaps because it’s a bit atypical for me. But even better it feeds a feeling of being fully present. And that’s where I’m going with all this: Be in the moment, but in the moment with the perspective of your history. This provides not only context but an acceptance that where you are is worth appreciating and not everything is about what’s next—a good approach at any time of year and even more resonant at the end of one. 

Thanks for reading my columns during the year and wishing you and yours a happy and a healthy. See you in 2024! 

Dr. Blecher is an attending surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital.