On Death – by Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

Interpretation by 17th century French painter Jean II Restout

On his deathbed, it was purported that Alexander the Great summoned his generals and told them of his three last wishes:

1.  The best doctors should carry his coffin;
2.  The wealth he has accumulated (money, gold, precious stones) should be scattered along the procession to the cemetery, and
3.  His hands should be let loose, hanging outside the coffin for all to see.

Surprised by these unusual requests, the generals asked him to explain and this was his reply:

1.  I want the best doctors to carry my coffin to demonstrate that, in the face of death, even the best doctors in the world have no power to heal.
2.  I want the road to be covered with my treasure so that everybody sees that material wealth acquired on earth, stays on earth.
3.  I want my hands to swing in the wind, so that people understand that we come to this world empty handed and we leave this world empty handed after the most precious treasure of all is exhausted, and that is TIME.
TIME is our most precious treasure because it is LIMITED.  We can produce more wealth, but we cannot produce more time.

True or not, these quotes do carry significant lessons in life.

As a doctor, I am particularly attracted to the first point. Sometimes, we do face situations where relatives do expect us to prevent or postpone the inevitable; not only is this impossible but it results in humbly putting doctors and care-givers in their place..that the Almighty proposes and man disposes. Yes, and one’s time is finite.

Doctors are not God and many doctors, including myself, live by this credo:

“To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always”

-ascribed to Hippocrates (Greek physician, 460-370 BC)

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2 responses

  1. The story is most likely apocryphal but certainly conveys a meaningful message. While most people are keen to live as long as possible they usually don’t give much thought to what they should do with the gift of life. Chuck Palahniuk’s famous quote: “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” is perhaps an object lesson in how to lead a meaningful life. And leading a meaningful life doesn’t mean you have to win the Nobel Peace Prize or even receive any public recognition at all!
    Doctor2008 writes: Agreed.Sometimes we need this reminder regularly.

  2. In other words, Man proposes,God disposes.

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