As I have now decided to retire — after 63 years of practice and over 15,000 patients — I now will have time to contemplate and reminisce And remembering to do.
I remember when first I started asking question as a little boy of seven years old, full of curiosity and mounting wonderment about what is it all about, and what for? It was then I decided to become a physician while I was tending to my few mountains goats as a tiny shepherd in the mountains of Crete. The island of Minotaur next to the cave where the baby Jupiter (Zeus) was hiding from the murderous intentions of his father Cronus– Really! That’s where first the three questions of Gauguin inscribed in his enormous allegorical painting “Who are we? Where did we come from? and where are we going?” start bubbling up also in my mind as I decided to become an Iatros of Souls (Iatros is Greek for psychiatrist). That was when my wondrous journey began.
Now quoting from the Cavafy’s Poem “Ithaca.” (Ithaca was Odysseus’ kingdom he had to return to. The trip lasted many years –symbolically in the poem, our life’s journey.)
“On your return trip to Ithaca wish that your journey will be a long one, full of adventures, full of wonders. The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon do not be afraid of; Monsters like that you will never meet unless you carry them in your soul.”
But monsters I have met, unfortunately from the outside wars. The Holocaust: I was there in Salonika, Greece in 1941. The occupying Germans were killing my fellow Greeks of Jewish faith, and I lost my father, and met famine. Above all, I have witnessed over and over again the particular defect of our behavior as humans embedded in our nature: “behaving often by recruiting adversities and pain as if the natural allotment from heaven is not enough”. This defect along with cruelty are side-by-side with kindness, empathy, and cooperation. Complicated creatures as we are.
Oh! and the wars; the reoccurring collective, unnecessary, nasty, futile aggressions clothed in heroism, valor, and fighting for god and country. Killing each other, tribe against tribe.
It occurs with depressive regularity. It always begun following a sequence of events: a dissatisfied nation/tribe is mobilized by a skillful intuitive tribalist/national leader — aided by profiteers and war industries — telling its citizens to go and fight the now-dehumanized adjoining tribe. And fight they do; killing and being killed in the millions.
In fact and reality war is neither necessary nor inevitable, and has to be set aside from our own human nature — before it will help us to extinction as species. It has and can be done.
Having arrived in Ithaca as it were, I feel like sitting on the marble steps at the door of “the great Immensity” and to narrate to my fellow readers some of the wisdom I have gathered, with a poem as to how it was like being there.
Iatros of Souls
I have become the fancied father of hundreds of fellow humans And for a fee, I have offered certainty, To the bewildered, in a world of more-or less ness and ambiguity, More often; I was set as the point man, For half-forgotten, hurts and the focus of fantasies half-realized.
I was showered with reawakened rancors and affections, of past eras. and have dignified suffering for ten thousand hours, for sentenced Jobs; Themselves unaware of the charges. I have bravely visited dimly lit labyrinths; Habitats of untamed stallions.
Deeper yet, I have witnessed places, For inane lizards with implacable eyes, and I have marveled and often recoiled. In the brotherhood of Sigmund and of shamans, Of a thousand epochs. An uneasy and wondering Iatros of souls.