Since his recent promotion, Patrick had been burning more than his share of midnight oil at the firm. Case upon case was piling up on the docket. If he was ever going to make partner status in this lifetime, he needed to buck up and deal with the luxury of getting four hours of sleep each night. The first several weeks of his new work regime carried on without incident. Adrenaline and carefully coordinate shots of caffeine provided by the firm’s espresso machine served him well. Like the sludgy oil in your car, however, you can only ignore it for so long before it revolts, the engine seizing up in protest. Patrick’s body did just that while seated at a conference table in an otherwise ordinary status meeting with his associates.
He was focusing on the details of a domestic violence case slated for prosecution the following week while simultaneously disseminating his planned strategy. In the next moment, Patrick opened his eyelids to the unexpected view of a much different environment: a white sanitized hospital room with his wife, Samantha, gazing out the window, an apprehensive look on her face.
“Hey beautiful,” he said to Samantha in a hoarse voice. The oxygen tube in his nose and the drugs dripping through the intravenous feed in his right hand were slowly bringing him back to this earthly world. Samantha quickly approached the bedside taking Patrick’s hand, “Pat, you had me so worried.” An impulsive tear ran down her cheek.
“What happened?” Patrick’s question arose from a confused mental state as he continued to absorb the details of his new surroundings.
“You had a heart attack,” stammered Samantha, the tears beginning to flow a bit more freely as she began to understand the gravity of the situation. “Honey, something has to change,” she pleaded. “This can’t go on. We can’t afford to have something happen to you.” By we, Samantha was referring to herself as well as the two young girls at home with grandma right now, ages four and seven.
Patrick had many redeeming and admirable qualities. The stubbornness that served him so well in his professional life did not do so in his personal and family life. It was this obstinance that left him lying horizontal in a hospital bed instead of sitting crisscross applesauce on the living room floor with his two daughters and their dolls. His body had provided a final warning, waving a white flag in surrender to the overwhelming stimuli of his self-induced professional responsibilities. The urgent message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Tossed into the trash like junk mail in the past, it was finally being read and received by Patrick.
“I know, I know,” said Patrick. “I need to change things. I promise I’ll go see the doctor when I get out of here.” And so it came to be that Patrick visited his doctor the following week for the first time in at least five years. Sitting in the exam room awaiting his family physician, Dr. Kreb, to enter, he couldn’t even remember if he was a she or vice versa. It had been so long, he knew that there would be no recognition between the two of them.
As the doctor knocked and entered the room, he (so it was a male after all) flipped through the pages of Patrick’s medical records while greeting his latest patient. “How’s it going today, what can I do for you?” Patrick was thinking that he should already know the answer to this question. He was admitted to the hospital but three days ago. Patrick’s emergency visit should have shown up in his file. Doesn’t everything end up in these files, he thought as he grasped for some release of internal tension and anxiety, recalling a Seinfeld episode from many years ago?
“Well, I guess the better phrasing is what I can do for myself,” retorted Patrick. As the doctor returned to the front page, he finally understood the reason for his visit. “Yes,” said the doctor. “I see we’ve been pushing our limits a bit too far, eh?” Although Patrick had a wry sense of humor, he didn’t appreciate any levity in this particular situation, at least not the kind doled out by his doctor.
“I suppose you could say this is my wake-up call. I’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times and I know now that it’s time to finally get out of bed.” Patrick spoke in a self-deprecating tone as he began to sense how his cumulative actions over the previous year had led him to this present moment. He wished that he could simply take a pill and make this ill-fated situation disappear. Deep down, however, he knew this was impossible and was dreading the recommendations that would be forthcoming from the medical professional. It would be more invasive than the surgery that he didn’t need.
The doctor spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, reading from the notes he had made, as if he was rattling off a list of items to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. “First, you need to cut back on the amount of stress you are creating in your life. That means no more eighty hour work weeks. You need to cut it back to forty hours like the rest of the human population.” Looking over the rims of his bifocals to be sure his patient was paying attention; he continued “Second, you need to find a way to manage the excessive amounts of stress that you have already invited into your life. Find an activity or a hobby that gives you some time for renewal and rejuvenation: set aside some time to listen to music you enjoy, meditate, or take a daily walk on the beach. Your choice, just be sure to find something.”
The first piece of his treatment was going to be difficult to embrace. His work had become an addiction for Patrick. Cutting back to half the hours would be akin to going cold turkey. It was not going to be pretty. In fact, he surmised that it would introduce even more stress in the short term. Despite his apprehension, however, he knew it was necessary. Besides, if he didn’t follow through with the doctor’s advice, he was either headed for another heart attack or a divorce, maybe both.
As difficult as the work schedule aspect of his treatment would be, the doctor had stumbled upon a perfect activity for Patrick to help alleviate some of his existing stress. This part would be much easier. He had moved from the Midwest after law school to be closer to the beach. And yet, here he was less than ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and he could count on his one hand the number of times he had been there in the past ten years.
One of those times, perhaps the most memorable of his life, occurred on his first date with Samantha. With the pale moonlight casting a glow over the endless sea, the two of them stood with their foreheads touching, gazing into each other’s eyes as the lapping waves tickled their toes, sinking their feet into the sand as if setting strong roots for their future together. Maybe that’s why he didn’t return as often. Maybe he never wanted to risk tainting the perfection of that fond memory. Patrick would be strolling on that same beach more often now because he relished the reminiscence of that first date. He planned to relieve stress by taking a daily walk on the beach each morning before commuting into the office.
He had walked on this beach and sat on these dunes dozens of times in the past several months. The most spectacular part of this new practice was watching the sun begin to peek above the horizon as night transitioned to dawn. Each sunrise was different. Every one portrayed a different mood and told a different story. Some narratives were filled with gray clouds and a dull light that cast a somber ambiance. Other renditions were characterized by brilliant hues of vibrant pink, blue, and orange that was manifested by the smile of encouragement and hope on Patrick’s face.
This Friday morning’s sunrise was neither melancholy nor effervescent. And yet, it was like none he had ever seen. As Patrick sat on the dunes, forearms resting on his knees, he eagerly awaited the story line beginning to unfold as the diluting darkness of night gave way to the refreshing light of day. From the corner of his eye, in his peripheral vision, Patrick noticed what looked like a shadow, a vague form of something meandering down the sand towards the water’s edge. As the rising sun began to cast more light on the scene, he spotted the trail of sea turtles trekking vigorously towards the safety of the deep ocean waters. This was only the first of many obstacles that they would need to surmount in their young lives, but it was the most pressing at the moment. They were devoting every ounce of energy and focus into the here and now, and Patrick was overfilled with gratitude, being able to witness this magical transformation, this beginning of a new life.
It led Patrick naturally to contemplate the direction of his own focus. Each and every morning, he would sit here on this beach and focus on what was out over the horizon, awaiting a grand spectacle to make its presence known from a distance. He wondered how many other things, like these fledgling turtles, that he missed right before his eyes.
His daily routine should have carried Patrick south towards his office and the final eight hours of his new forty hour work week. It was those eight hours, after all, that would help propel Patrick closer to becoming a partner, that vision looming just out over the horizon. Instead, he turned north, headed home to his own fledgling turtles, all the while planning a perfectly splendid party involving imaginary tea, pretend scones, and the three most important people in his life.