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In a past life, I was sitting in a colleague’s office, and…

…I noticed a book titled “When Breath Becomes Air” out on his desk. It was freezing cold in the slick, modern offices, despite it being summer outside. The sun was trying to penetrate through window wall, but couldn’t.

My colleague was giving me an assignment. I actually liked this colleague, so I didn’t instinctively recoil as he went through the unrealistic list of things that needed to be completed within the client’s short timeframe—unlike what I did with so many of the others.

Still, my attention drifted back to the book, seemingly out of place in the messy, but strictly work, office. I’m a sucker for a catchy title, so I asked him about it. He told me that the book was a true story about a neurosurgeon diagnosed with cancer and his quest for trying to understand what makes human life meaningful. My colleague said that he kept it out on his desk when times were busy at work to remind him of what was truly important, nodding to the only other non-work item in his office, a picture framed of his two young girls.

The book was always out.

In an early scene, the author talks about choosing a summer job at a camp in the Eldorado National Forest over an internship at the Yerkes Primate Research Center. In defense of his decision, he wrote that he could either study the possible origin of human meaning, or he could experience human meaning for himself.

I hope you, and I, and my former colleague, as often as possible, make the same decision.