Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Changes and more Changes

I have just read Todd Purdum's harsh, insightful article about Bill Clinton in the current Vanity Fair. Purdum was Washington correspondent for the NY Times during part of Clinton's administration and follows politics with a sharp reporter's eye. Among the many observations in the article was a mention that Clinton now seems to have a smoldering anger that was not part of his personality when he was President. He ties this change in affect to the traumatic heart surgery Clinton had a few years ago. That rang bells for me. It's a conjecture, an astute observation but not a fact in medical terms that major surgery may change personalities to a degree. I don't think it's talked about, at least the ever greedy medical media writers haven't glommed onto it a far as I know.

My mother had major heart surgery in her 70s, it was traumatic and she recovered slowly [but lived several more years]. When I visited I noticed that a woman who I don't believe I ever saw cry, became teary and sniffy when she mentioned a friend's death She said, embarrassed, "I don't know why I'm always crying these days." I came to believe it was an after effect of her surgery, not a change of attitude but a deep change of expressiveness.

I worked for some years for an elderly woman who, when I first met her had just had hip surgery during which a malfunction in the oxygen deprived her of oxygen for a mininute or two. Her long time assistant said more than once, "Since her surgery she's lost her sense of humor." Certainly the woman was highly intelligent and enjoyed other people's wit but showed no humorous wit herself.

Many of us as we grow older will face serious surgery, perhaps we should be aware of the fact that we may be changed in unexpected ways, that the personality we have lived with and worked to refine all our lives, will surprise us in some unexpected way. This adds a deeper note to the poem to the right, where Kunitz says, my changes are not done. This may be a frightening thought to those who have kept tight control on their personas. I think it is evidence that even personalities are not our essence, our humanity lies even deeper inside ourselves. It's a challenge to contemplate. The woman I worked for seemed unaware of change, my mother was embarrassed, and Clinton has simply gone with the flow and burst out angrily several times in the last months in defense of Hilary. Do we have the resources to recognize and handle more changes?

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