When I have formal interviews with individuals, they often respond to “How will we live tomorrow?” in the context of their position. Others provide personal perspectives. Those perspectives don’t necessarily jive with the reality of their present: affluent executives are prone to talk about simple living without actually doing it. But I’ve never spoken with anyone whose demeanor, career, and accomplishments are more disconnected from her response to my question than Joanne Gray. Joanne is the antithesis of someone mining consumer culture while espousing simplicity. Joanne lives simply and honestly. As a healthcare administrator she’s dedicated to providing the highest care to the greatest number of people. Yet her thoughts on how we will live tomorrow reveal and entirely unexpected perspective. After we talked, Joanne asked that I not use her real name or location, for reasons that make sense to me. I am honored that Joanne responded to my question so candidly. Although the details are changed, the outline of her life, and her quotes, are accurate.
Joanne Gray switched gears mid-life. She moved to the West Coast to pursue a PhD. in Health Services at University of Oregon, fell in love with Eugene, fell out of love with a lazy husband, and wound up running operations for the local hospital. She has a left-leaning heart and a hard-head for numbers. “I have never worked as an advocate. To be an advocate you have to ignore inconvenient facts.” Joanne recognizes nuance in every situation.
In her work, Joanne sees first hand how our ability to extend lives affects the cost and delivery of health care. “Different cultures have different perspectives on the end of life. The challenge is not only to physicians; sometimes it’s the patients. We have many patients, often academics, who want every measure applied to extend their life. I have also known religious people who want to extend their lives. According to them, the longer the body is alive, the more chance God can intervene with a miracle.”
Joanne has no children and few close friends. She admits to being tied to her work. However, Joanne is also a classically trained singer whose bond with Eugene is strengthened because of the excellent voice teacher and two choruses she belongs to here. “Singing is my relaxation, my meditation, my release from work.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I find this a disturbing question because it explores something I ignore. I have never been able to envision a future. I am single and have never had children. You would think that a person who got a PhD. would plan for the future. In the business world I can plan, but in my personal life I have no idea how to envision the future. I am very susceptible to inertia.
“I think part of it is that subconsciously, I refuse to have any expectations, because that way I can’t be disappointed. I just try to get through each day being a good person, finding small ways to help other people, and doing a good job at my job.
“The other part of not being able to answer, “How will we live tomorrow” is that I don’t consider myself to be part of any “we.” I know I don’t come across as particularly disconnected or self-effacing, but I do feel as though I could vanish tomorrow and no one would notice. But hey, I have good meds, so I’m pretty good at going through the motions of being a real person.
“I understand how it happened, that I have spent 17 years in Eugene, yet I have only one real friend in the area. I invested heavily in people who were not capable of giving back, or whose circumstances meant they passed through my life and didn’t stay. I finally like my job, I need my job, and my job claims virtually all my time and energy — another reason why it’s hard to envision the future.”