Thomas Wictor

Sure, it could just be a coincidence. So what?

Sure, it could just be a coincidence. So what?

When Tim and I cleared out the storage room at his house in preparation for the demolition that was put off after our parents got sick, we found hundreds of ancient books, some from the eighteenth century. Most were in towering barrister bookcases with ninety years of stuff piled in front of them. Mom had no idea whose books they were.

As we packed these books into boxes, one crumbling, moldy volume three inches thick seemed to leap out at me. For some reason I put it aside and took it to my house. I didn’t look at it for over a year. Tonight, again for no reason, I picked it up, opened it, and the first thing I read made my jaw drop. I transcribed it and e-mailed it to Tim. His reply:

Oh my God, your angel of intuition must be as strong as the sun…

I’ll get to what I read later. The cover of the book is so damaged that I couldn’t read the title printed on the spine. The first few pages are missing too. It took several minutes of searching online before I learned the name of this work: Gunn’s New Domestic Physician, or, Home Book of Health, published in 1859.

The author is John C. Gunn, M.D. So far I haven’t been able to find anything about him. He’s a hell of a writer, though.

How blind and perverse is man’s nature. He busies himself with the fleeting vanities of this vain world; seeks eagerly after the idle bubble, reputation; directs the whole energies of his mind to the accomplishment at best of some trifling object; hastes to the field to reap glory over the mangled carcasses of his fellow-creatures; scales the political ladder, to move and control masses by the force of his puny intellect; embarks in the most perilous voyages, visits the most distant and unhealthy climes to accumulate the dirty dross of the world; and, in the midst of his petty schemes and speculations, the angel of death summons him to appear before that dread tribunal where he will be judged according to the acts done in this life.

Dr. Gunn was a devout Christian. The book returns again and again to the notion that Jesus is the only answer. Though I’m not religious, I admire Dr. Gunn’s insight and his obvious desire to alleviate suffering. Much of what he writes is relevant to me personally.

Anger, as it proceeds originally from the mind, ruffles that as well as the body; the calm and quiet affections, which diffuse peace and joy around them, fly at its approach and are succeeded by a black train of evil passions which carry their own punishment, by inflicting the most bitter torment. Nor do the ill effects subside when anger ceases; the mind still retains its commotion like the raging sea, which continues in a state of agitation though the winds have abated. It has been argued that anger is the consequence of a peculiar frame of the body, but this is a simple argument, as it is in the power of every one to control their passions if they are watchful.

A lifetime of being a raging sea left me physically destroyed. My evil passions did carry their own punishment, and my mind retained its commotion regardless of what was happening around me. Dr. Gunn also shares my belief that happiness can be achieved by transforming anger over loss into gratitude for what once was.

The love that survives the tomb is one of the noblest attributes of the soul. If it has its woes, it has likewise its delights; and when the overwhelming burst of grief is calmed into the gentle tear of recollection, then the sudden anguish and convulsive agony over the present ruins of all that we most loved, are softened away into pensive meditations on all that was in the day of its loveliness.

He explains how I dealt with my own life-threatening illness and why Tim didn’t die when his immensely fat, sports-car-driving doctor punctured his bowel.

It is truly important to remove every cause of fear from the minds of the sick, and to encourage them with hopes of recovery. This is well understood by every experienced physician. A fearful and desponding state of mind, will often render unmanageable, or even fatal, a slight affection, while a calm and buoyant disposition, has frequently carried a patient through a serious attack, during which his life was placed in great danger. In all difficult or dangerous complaints, the person in whom there is the least fear of dying, has invariably the fairest chance of surviving.

Though my life has been and continues to be a series of setbacks, Dr. Gunn reinforces what I concluded on my own.

Hope is the connecting link between the past and the future… Thou hast only to persevere, and thy reward awaits thee. Many days and nights, perchance years, hast thou struggled with adversity. Thou hast said in thine heart, “Woe is me—wherefore was I born?” Hope then whispered, persevere, before thee lies thy reward.

This next passage is very subtle and doesn’t mean what you might think it does at first. It takes a bit of pondering, but he’s absolutely right. I’ll let you work out why he makes this claim.

Sorrow is the noblest of all disciplines. Our nature shrinks from it, but it is not the less for the greatness of our nature. It is a scourge, but there is healing in its stripes. It is a chalice, and the draught is bitter, but strength proceeds from the bitterness. It is a crown of thorns, but it becomes a wreath of light on the brow which it has lacerated.

Another sentence is directly relevant to me and the way I was brought up.

Gloom of spirit acts upon the intellectual faculties like a paralysis; the perception is dimmed, the invention is deadened, the judgment is perplexed, the will is unnerved.

I did find a portrait of Dr. Gunn. Even in an engraving, his kindness is apparent. He’s got terrific eyes. It’s a very trustworthy face.

I disagree with much of what he writes, but that doesn’t matter. He was a great man. The book is a thousand pages long! And every page is an attempt to be helpful. Imagine the dedication, especially since he had to have written this monster in longhand.

And now, the first thing I read when I opened the book, which describes exactly the deaths of my parents. Dr. Gunn saw what Tim and I did, and he spoke to us from across 154 years. Though I’m flabbergasted, I’m also not. It could just be a coincidence that I plucked this book out of the hundreds we packed, and the first thing I read was what follows. I choose instead to see it as part of the patterns that Tim and I discern everywhere. They reassure us that there’s order in the universe, and that we are not alone.

Solitary indeed is that couch where the emaciated, strengthless form is stretched, unaccompanied by these drawings of eternal day. No starlight brightness, no cherub wings are hovering around his dying pillow. In vain are arms of friendship extended, or the bosom of love opened; the ray of hope may gleam for a brief moment in the horizon of his mind, but alas! they are cold and cheerless; no vivifying influence passes over his feverish brain; no holy gust of ecstatic joy sublimates the mind, and in quick succession, the past, the present, and the future is before him, and, at a glance, he views the false colorings of the world. The trembling soul dreads the future. No uplifted arm makes strong the soul, nor points with unerring truth the brightest way to the mansions of eternal bliss, and he cries, “How hard it is to die! All is lost!”

I know that’s what Mom and Dad thought as they died, but they were wrong. Many things have convinced me of that. Dr. Gunn’s magnificent book is only the latest.

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