We live in a society where beauty is a measure of worth. Aesthetics are necessary for survival. However, there are things we see that are not pleasing. A haggard, old street musician; a dirty smog-filled alley; a town left ravaged by warfare; an obese, sweaty taxi driver; all of these things are not "beautiful." Yet there is a certain exquisiteness to each one of them. Finding it is not always easy, but it is important. In his book Letters to a Young Doctor, Richard Selzer addresses some aspects of our own mortality and vulnerability that are not "pretty" to think about. Appreciating the intrinsic beauty and value in things that aren"t considered classically beautiful, however, is an important feature for both surgery and life. In the essays "The Slug" and "Letter to a Young Surgeon IV," Selzer demonstrates his understanding of this.
Most of Selzer's essays in this book are cases he has had or advice he has for young surgeons. Each one describes, through medical anecdotes, something he wants the reader to learn. One hundred twenty-six pages into the book, however, the reader comes upon a very different essay entitled "The Slug." In this piece Selzer describes a particularly interesting garden he came upon one day while walking. It was, in his words, "gleaming like a Burmese jade behind eight-foot-tall wrought iron pickets" (127). He proceeded to climb the fence and enter the garden. It's "cool and dark" (127) beauty was like the whisper of a wise old man. He sat, reveling in the enchanting experience letting his senses take the place in one at a time. Sight, sound, touch, smell, while the garden revealed its secrets one by one, the intoxicating eyes of mother nature behind her veil of green hair watching him, waiting for the right moment to expose her most precious secret. He sat on a stone bench and drifted in and out of consciousness until something startled him awake.