By B.J. Miller
We all need a reason to wake up. For me, it was 11,000 volts of electricity. One night, sophomore year of college, a few friends and I were out on the town; one thing led to another, and we decided to climb a parked commuter train. Fun, no? I scurried up the ladder on the back, and when I stood up, whammo! The current arced to my metal wristwatch, entered my arm, and blew down and out my feet. I lost half of an arm and both legs below the knee. I spent a few months recovering in the St Barnabas burn unit in Livingston, NJ. One day, several weeks in to the affair, it began to snow outside. I was told it was coming down hard and pretty. Around that time, a friend of mine smuggled a snowball into the burn unit for me. I cannot tell you the rapture I felt. The sensation of coldness on my skin, the miracle of it as I watched it melt to water. In that moment, I was amazed enough to be any part of this planet in this universe that whether I lived or died became irrelevant.
How important are human lives in the larger scope of things?
When are we sheltered, and when are we exposed?
BJ Miller, M.D., is a palliative care specialist and educator at UCSF, and executive director of San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project.