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Never the Twain Shall Meet

Vincent Valentine, MD
Links Editor

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vincent valentineWe are at the end of my first year as your Editor-in-Chief of the Links E-newsletter. Volume 3 of the newsletter, our 32nd Annual Meeting in Prague and the end of April 2012 are now closed. We have our memories and reviews to recapitulate our accomplishments. It was a century and two years ago that Halley's Comet carried away our "celestial wanderer" from Earth on April 21, 1910. Just before this date, a "report of his death was an exaggeration," but it was the 75 years prior in Halley's cyclical orbit when Samuel Clemens fell off the star dust for our personal pleasure.

Mark Twain never really existed. He was the figment of Clemens' imagination. Mark Twain became one of our best known and best loved Americans known throughout the world even today. Thinking of him, we have an image of a man in a white suit, with a white mane of hair, with a moustache that always needs combing, with a cigar in one hand and a twinkle in both eyes. Thinking of this description is enough to make you smile. But thinking of this image for our amusement may also be a disguise for Samuel Clemens. For the ISHLT, this is our source of creativity, imagination, and adventure with laughter, humor, satire, and cynicism for our personal and professional amusement. For the public, there is Mark Twain. In private, there is Samuel Clemens. Edgar Allan Poe struggled with doubles—was it deliberate or a coincidence to have Poe's William Wilson and Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson? Do we have our own societal persona which differs from the persona of our private lives?

During meetings, as presenters there is a bit of showmanship. There is professional work that defines our career and there is our personal life. Becoming Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens gained the world but may have lost himself. This is a balance for us. Mark Twain is a reflection of ourselves—allowing us to take life both seriously and humorously.

The mere meaning of the name Mark Twain conjures up safety and danger at the same time. From Clemens' days as a riverboat pilot on the muddy Mississippi River, mark twain meant two fathoms or 12 feet. Steamboats needed nine to ten-and-a-half feet of water to travel without running aground. On one hand, if mark twain meant the water was getting deeper this implied easy waters, or smooth sailing. However, if mark twain meant the water was getting shallower, then this implied danger ahead. This is the near perfect ambiguity Mark Twain implied, deliberately.

Twain pushed the envelope in American Society, and across the globe, challenging all conventions. I refer you to the January 2012, volume 3, issue 8, On Teaching and Learning. "As individuals we are teachers and learners and must constantly push ourselves beyond comfort zones to avoid the temptation of procrastination.... We have to educate ourselves, have the willingness to do so and keep our inquisitiveness alive." Lifelong learning gives us the opportunity to deal with crises and ambiguities—even from Mark Twain. In the ISHLT, we cannot rest on the comfort of a successful meeting held abroad (The Innocents Abroad). We must take the challenge and continue forward as we look to Montreal (Roughing It). We must straddle the boundaries; think outside the box, outside our comfort zone, as we explore the unknown to do what's best for our patients.

There is a constant duality—should we or shouldn't we. Mark Twain carried us to these two extremes. Clemens' imagination gave us Tom and Huck, the Prince and the Pauper, the master and the slave, and good and evil. What about the amusing Siamese twins? Two personalities trapped inside one body, two legs, one trunk, four arms, two heads and, with the cleverness of Clemens, two extreme personalities. One is a teetotaler, the other a drunk. If the drunk would drink, the other would get the hangover. The possibilities are endless.

Now with the end of April 102 years ago, when all is said and done, Sam Clemens is dead, long live Mark Twain. Think of the differences a century, a half-century, a decade, a year and a day make. [Did you know that Samuel Clemens' wife was Olivia Langdon?]

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.