Passion for life

Thomas L. Petty, M.D.

Professor of Medicine, 
University of Colorado

Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP)


National Lung Health Education Program
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Passion For Life

December 1996
PEP Pioneers
Second Wind
Torrance, California

Dear Friends;

I have been amazed at how many people spend their precious time succumbing to frustration, anger, and often despair.  Great literature is replete with laments on how little people often get from life, as was captured in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”, “where ordinary people allow life to pass them by without even recognizing it.”   As H. L. Menken said, “Life is a dead-end street.”

Bertrand Russell said, “To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.”  I also like Mark Twain’s, “Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”  Another quote from Mark Twain, “All say, ‘how hard it is we have to die’ - a strange complaint from the mouths of people who have had to live”!

The passion for life can be seen in many people who are facing serious and mortal illness.  One of my best personal friends, Dr. Roger Bone of Rush University, Chicago, a premier leader in pulmonology, has written extensively about his own impending death from cancer.  He courageously wrote about his thoughts concerning life and death and the comfort of a Taste of Lemonade on three occasions in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  He recently discussed his forthcoming death on “Good Morning America.”  But he stressed his zest for living in the time that remains.

When Henry David Thoreau was dying of tuberculosis, he wrote “Walden”, still a classic.  “Man becomes life machines whose sole purpose is to make a living,” Thoreau wrote.  “This mass of man lead lives of quiet desperation,” which laments the fact that although life has length, it must also have breadth.

The passion for life often is heightened by a sudden illness such as a heart attack, cancer, or stroke.  These three illnesses are feared by all and when they become a reality, real or perceived, the loss of bliss commonly results.“ It was a dream of perfect bliss, too beautiful to last” (T. H. Bailey, It was a Dream).

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring”, underscores the power and fervor we all feel from time to time to be allowed to continue to enjoy life as we know it.  We want to look forward to our ability to live, work, love, and hope.  We recognize that we are fragile and that life is tenuous and finite.

So, for this holiday season, I wish everyone to have a passion for life.  What life means is personal and private, shared only with family and a very few friends.  Only the individual can feel the intensity of this passion and apply it to the art of living and enjoying the adventure that it brings.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas.  I’ll be in touch next month.

     Sincerely yours,

    Thomas Petty, MD

Last update:
9 April 2002