We are Pulse

Last night a patient of mine died of cancer, whom I loved very much.  She had a special way of enjoying life; a half, wise smile that after our many years together did not take me too seriously and reflected her deep inner strength.  She taught me about joy; I will miss her always.  Her husband, understanding my loss, said that it was alright, that I had done my best, that he would pray for me.  He empathized more with my pain, my loss, than with his own.

This same morning, I learned of the slaughter at the Pulse.  I was mourning the death of one person of a terrible, but natural disease, while at a night club, a place to celebrate life, friends and lovers in the middle of dance, were cut down. No illness, no fault, no natural process, just slaughter. My grief is barren, tiny, pathetic, in the dark light of that terror and loss.

I am devastated.  With my hands, my mind and soul, I have dedicated my life to fighting the rotting, disgusting malady we call cancer.  One patient, one battle.  Win some.  Lose an awful lot.  But, always the purest fight, reaching for one more day or month or year of happiness and life.  Build hope. Build families. Build a community.  Small steps forward.

Then, the massacre.  A greater rot. Killing in Florida. Connecticut.  California.  Israel.  Afghanistan. Iran. France. Africa. Asia.  We are so good at killing.  We are much better at taking life than saving it.  We could cure cancer, AIDS, hunger, poverty, but instead we kill. It comes to us so easily. We are gifted at torture, rape, genocide, murder.  Nature’s killers.

On mornings like this, while I am filling out one death certificate, but thinking of the inch-thick pile of morbid declarations on a bloody desk in Orlando, I do not know how to grieve.  I spend years cherishing one life, scraping by slowly, scratching out special small moments, and in minutes, 50 are bodies on a floor.  How can this possibly make sense?  My deepest feeling is not sadness for those souls, but I wonder whether mankind, humanity itself, will survive.  Are we a failed species?

A flower does not strangle its sister in jealously of another’s blossom.  No animal drowns its young at the watering hole.  Even viruses and bacteria do not consume their own.  But, homo sapiens, who have the ability to build, heal and love, excel at species suicide.  Man can remember the past, dream of the future, as demi-gods mold tomorrow, but they cannot tolerate the pain of memories, the fear of the future, the terror of mortality and are consumed by their own awesome power.  So, they kill. Our great gift this earth is our ability to destroy it and ourselves.

As a physician, a healer, I desperately want to believe in the dream, the possibility of who we could be. So, I will mourn my patient because I loved her, as I love man.  I will also mourn her because, in a small way, my pain, my loss, my prayers, might honor and hold close those who die on dance floors all over this world.  Perhaps by remembering one small life and a single tiny death, the importance and beauty of each person, the possibility in peace, hope and love, we can find the path to save all of man.

We stand at the brink, a moment in time, when man will decide whether his time on this earth will end or if we will continue. Together on the dance floor.  Will the sound be music or gun fire?  We are Pulse.


  • gopja
    Thank you for this.
  • Harry Jones
    Sad but excellent piece. Thanks!
  • This is a beautiful piece. Volunteering and writing about end-of-life issues, for me, always centers on reverence for life, for trying to enhance comfort, moments of pleasure and, yes, love. So there's such a huge, jarring and deeply troubling disconnect in contemplating the hideous violent deaths of young, vibrant people. Thank you for articulating so well the depths of that disconnect, and our sorrow, anger and hurt over it.
  • John Gehr
    My thoughts and prayers are with you.
  • Russ Gale
    I have been an avid followed of Sunrise Rounds and have always enjoyed reading your thoughtful and inspiring pieces. But this time I felt that you went even deeper to find the words to express the pain and frustration we are all feeling in the aftermath of this senseless tragedy. It is beautifully written and heartfelt. Thank you for taking the time to share this with all of us.
  • Paula Kaplan-Reiss
    Beautifully said. Remember, most of us never have the opportunity to save any lives! You do sacred work and we are grateful to the healers of this world. You cannot always work miracles, but your care and compassion are healing in and of itself.
  • Cheryl
  • Penny egan
    Thank you....your words do help in a world that at times goes mad....making it difficult to comprehend the actions of a few...hurting so many... Thank you for the man you are, with a heart and mind that should spread like a virus to all of us.... fondly, Penny
  • One of your very best... I completely agree with the thoughtful comments Russ, Penny, Paula, and Ellen wrote. I have nothing else to add, except to say thank you, Dr. Salwitz. PS I shared this essay on my Facebook page.
  • Erna Toback, PhD
    A beautiful piece of heart and mind, deep, compassionate and wise.
  • Debbie
    Such a beautiful, heartfelt post Jim. Thank You. I totally agree with all of the comments and couldn't have said it better. Feeling very blessed that you and your family are in my life.
  • If it is any consolation to you, humans are much less brutal than they (we) were a few thousand years ago. This is obvious if one reads some of the anthropological literature. One book, in particular, drove this home to me: "Noble Savages" by Napoleon Chagnon. Having spent years with the Yanomamo, a native Amazonian tribe, he writes about how every man of any distinction had killed at least one other man - mostly over possession of women. Civilization (or group selection against killers?) has changed that statistic considerably.
  • D Someya Reed
    I don't disagree with your sentiment about this shooting, even all shootings. I don't question your questioning of humanity's future. But, you can't use false information to support your point because of a couple of additional of humanity's failings...ignorance and arrogance. You said: "A flower does not strangle its sister in jealousy of another's blossom." Maybe it doesn't (out of jealousy) but a stronger flower will push out and kill smaller ones for more sunlight or strangle the life out of them by attacking their roots. "No animal drowns its young at the watering hole." Maybe not drown but some will just as inexplicably kill and eat their young. "Even viruses and bacteria do not consume their own." Of course there are some that do just this and we (humanity) are trying to exploit this trait for both good and bad uses. Because of these additional human failings (ignorance and arrogance), comments that paint nature as beautiful and wonderful (which it is) ignore that fact that it's also equally deadly. Far too many people will read this (and because you are a learned individual) will believe that they have nothing to fear from "kind and gentle" nature. Because you said so (inasmuch) and you are a good and smart person. This is the kind of thing which allows some people to think it wise to enter zoo enclosures to retrieve the most worthless of items or to get a closer look, maybe a better photo. This is what allows some people to pet a resting bison (that could kill them in a heartbeat) while another person films them on their iPhone. This is what allows some people to not even think that an alligator might be present in a body of water at a time when they are most likely to feed in a state where they exist in the millions. Certainly, all of these are tragedies. You are correct, though, that we humans with our "superior intellect" have escalated killing to an art form beyond what the animal kingdom does. But we should not ignore that both we and animals, at our core, kill for many of the same reasons...food, territory, mates & mating, etc. Worst of all and one form of killing that separates us from animals (at least as far as we know) is faith-based. For this we have killed more than for any other reason and will likely continue to kill well into the future. Yet it's all based on faith and no one knows for certain who is right and who is wrong. I'm not disagreeing with your posting but don't wish to see people further encouraged to be stupid.

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