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A Little Happier: An Episode from the Life of Dr. Johnson Reminds Me to Do a Better Job of Staying Calm.

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NOTE: These episodes were recorded before the COVID-19 situation took hold. Given the rapidly changing situation, it’s jarring to hear us ignore it—and that’s why. You can find all resources related to coping with COVID-19 here.

One of my favorite authors is Samuel Johnson, also known as Dr. Johnson, the eccentric, prolific eighteenth-century writer and lexicographer.

His health was quite bad, and in 1783, when Dr. Johnson was about 74 old, he had a stroke that for a time made him unable to speak.

I read the story of what happened in an account called “The Life of Samuel Johnson” written in 1787 by Sir John Hawkins. Ever since I read it, I can’t stop thinking about it. It says everything about Dr. Johnson: his brilliance with language, his abiding religious faith, his eccentricity.

Here’s the account from Sir John Hawkins:

About the middle of June 1783, his constitution sustained a severer shock than it had ever before felt: this was a stroke of the palsy, so very sudden and severe, that it awakened him out of a sound sleep, and rendered him, for a short time, speechless. As it had not affected his intellectual powers, he, in that cumbent posture to which he was confined, attempted to repeat, first in English, then in Latin, and afterwards in Greek, the Lord's Prayer, but succeeded in only the last effort, immediately after which, finding himself again bereft of the power of speech, he rang for his servant, and making signs for pen, ink, and paper, wrote and sent the following note to his friend and next-door neighbour, Mr. Allen the printer.

Dear Sir,

It hath pleased Almighty God this morning to deprive me of the powers of speech; and, as I do not know but that it may be his farther good pleasure to deprive me soon of my senses, I request you will, on the receipt of this note, come to me, and act for me, as the exigencies of my case may require.

I am, sincerely,
Your's,
S. Johnson

His neighbor came over, summoned a doctor, and Dr. Johnson recovered his ability to speak.

I was so deeply moved by calmness and composure shown by Dr. Johnson in such a terrifying moment. I get tremendously rattled when I can’t find my phone right away! This example reminds me of how I can face life with more equanimity.

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