How the noble die

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 22.37.30Dalrymple writes that he used to pass the time of day

with the husband of an elderly patient of mine who would accompany her to the hospital. One day, I found him so jaundiced that he was almost orange. At his age, it was overwhelmingly likely to mean one thing: inoperable cancer. He was dying. He knew it and I knew it; he knew that I knew it. I asked him how he was. ‘Not very well,’ he said. ‘I’m very sorry to hear that,’ I replied. ‘Well,’ he said quietly, and with a slight smile, ‘we shall just have to do the best we can, won’t we?’ Two weeks later, he was dead.

Dalrymple often remembers

the nobility of this quite ordinary man’s conduct and words. He wanted an appropriate, but only an appropriate, degree of commiseration from me; in his view, which was that of his generation and culture, it was a moral requirement that emotion and sentiment should be expressed proportionately, and not in an exaggerated or self-absorbed way. My acquaintance with him was slight; therefore my regret, while genuine, should be slight. (Oddly enough, my regret has grown over the years, with the memory.) Further, he considered it important that he should not embarrass me with any displays of emotion that might discomfit me. A man has to think of others, even when he is dying.

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