Enjoy Every Sandwich
Lee Lipsenthal, M.D.
MJF Books, New York
I’ll admit, I skipped ahead to find out whether author Lee Lipsenthal, M.D., was still alive. (He isn’t.) It put a different, more urgent, glaze on his words, reading his account of his battle with esophageal cancer. Throughout the book, Lipsenthal bravely faces his diagnosis, detailing for the reader the ways he is able reconcile in his mind the idea of dying.
A student of ‘appreciating the simple things’ myself, I had hoped for a more novel, more direct, more groundbreaking lesson in this book, but it fell slightly short. Instead, Lipsenthal reaffirms (from the valley of the shadow of death itself) the importance of ‘living fully,’ without explicitly noting how to do so.
He first mentions practicing gratitude as a means of “savouring this sandwich of life” (pg. 30). Indeed, it is easier to let go of something when you feel you have appreciated and experienced it fully.
“If I looked for fun, joy, and playfulness, I would find fun, joy, and playfulness,” he writes. “If I looked for trouble, stress, and heartache, that was what I would find…” (pg. 48). This reminds me of metta practice: to consciously put aside negative thoughts and feelings, and focus on the positive, on the love. It’s a technique I value, and can attest to its effectiveness.
Lipsenthal also notes that he chose find “acceptance of the stressors of life as part of life,” and in that acceptance, he writes, “I found peace” (pg. 48). Acceptance: a cornerstone of mindfulness.
The author’s belief in past lives, and the possibility of rebirth, is for him a further aspect of making peace with his death: “Knowing this may not be our last sandwich helps us not to regret that with each bite the sandwich slowly disappears” (pg. 76).
Throughout, Lipsenthal drives home importance of finding meaning in all aspects of life, even the mundane, or as he writes, in “enjoying every sandwich”.
The book includes some lovely quotes from great thinkers:
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain
“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.” – Buddha
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
(Clearly Al was never a homemaker. I can appreciate the sentiment, but I’m going to be honest: the only miracle going on in my household some days is the fact that I manage to keep everyone alive. That’s all.)
My favourite take-away from this book is a poignant teaching that Lipsenthal borrows, a Native American expression sometimes used in battle, that (more effectively) echoes the author’s message: “Today is a good day to die.” Readiness for death to me signals a life fully appreciated, and brings to mind for me the Buddhist meditation on the awareness of death. We must live fully, and mindfully, so that when it comes to die we will not feel that we have not lived.
I’ve never felt comfortable about the idea of a “bucket list”… but perhaps a “sandwich list” is in order.