Pediatrician Alistair McAlpine was taken aback when he posed a simple question to his young, terminally ill patients in palliative care: "What do you enjoy in life and what gives it meaning?" I don't think he was ready for the responses.
As we get older it's easy to lose sight of what we really care about, and what makes us happy.
The whimsical, passionate, and enthusiastic energy of children has sadly become synonymous with foolishness. Over time it tends to start to fade. Whether it's through personal life experiences, or just the rigors of a crumby school system, kids are trained to sit down and shut up.
Go to any University and you'll see the majority of youngsters are walking around and posing. That first dream or college major or whatever they used to fantasize about becoming has been beaten out them.
Sometimes it's that first hiccup or that insanely difficult organic chemistry class that makes you settle for a business degree over becoming a doctor, or maybe you wanted to go into high-level financial analysis and settled for some degree that was easier for you to do. Maybe you finished college and just took a cushy, "comfortable" job, those series of settlements and going after a "get" ultimately crushes you.
That enthusiasm is then channeled into things that don't really make you happy, but perhaps only further fuel your bitterness.
But the responses that Dr. McAlpoine received from the young children who didn't have that much more time to live show that almost all of us are born with that enthusiasm and zest for life. They only focused on what made them happy.
Endlessly scrolling through their Instagram feed wasn't on that list. Nor was any physical vanity items.
They loved their pets and their relationships with them. But what's most profound is the feelings that the kids associate with these experiences. You can feel, through his viral Twitter thread, that their responses are coming from a genuine place.
The wholesomeness extended to their relationships with their parents. Dealing with the loss of a child is tough, but the fact that these kids are thinking about others and not looking for "woe is me," is what's truly staggering about their thought processes.
Of course, they all mentioned ice-cream. Who doesn't love walking outside on a hot summer day with great friends while you're all scarfing down some ice cream cones? Incredible.
They also expressed how much they enjoyed dreaming about other worlds through books with their parents. They love hearing those fantastical stories and even better, they loved being told those stories.
This one will probably hit adults right in the gut, it did for me. They realized that caring about other people's perceptions of them was a total waste of time. How old are these kids? This is truly insightful.
Many just wanted to enjoy the beauty of the world we live in. Something many of us start to overlook as we get older.
They loved, loved, absolutely loved treating people with respect and dignity and loved it when they were showed that same level of kindness.
Of course, laughter is high up on the list. Like my best friend Chris Conroy says, there aren't many people he knows that can have a full-bellied laugh. Naturally, I agree with him.
They also value the heck out of their belongings. Do you remember how much you loved that special action figure or stuffed animal when you were a kid? How many years did you play with that thing? Now, we get a new cell phone and we're bored with it after the first week.
They also realized that spending time with family was very, very, very important and they valued it above everything else.
Dr. McAlpine was astounded by the responses he received and ultimately learned a lot from these kids. While their time on big blue rock floating in space is limited, in the grand scheme of things, ours is too.
We're all terminal in our own way, so why waste our time on pettiness and things that ultimately don't really make us happy? Why don't we throw tantrums for the things that we love and actually mean something to us, instead of wigging out because a waiter got our order wrong or someone forgot to call us on our birthday? Take a page out of these kids' and Matthew McConaughey's book: JKL. Just, keep, livin'.
If McAlpine's post hit you as hard as it's hitting me and tons of other people online, maybe take a gander at his whole experience in dealing with these kids and the answers they provided in this super engaging piece that was published in Medical Brief.
This little bit really got to me:
"The truth is: dying children upset the limited sense of cosmic order many of us cling to. Kids are innocent, so they should not be punished – and certainly not with something as extreme as death. They are usually healthy, so they should pass away after their parents. They are happy, so they should not have to face extreme pain and suffering. And yet some of them are forced to. And although it may be shortened, they deserve a life that is as meaningful, pain-free, and dignified as possible. When death comes, it should be peaceful."
I wish all doctors were this thoughtful and caring towards their patients.