Professor Alastair Munro, Professor of Radiation Oncology Ninewells Dundee, tells us what “Inspiration” means to him.
I have been asked to write about inspiration – about what has inspired this particular oncologist. So I start wondering about what inspiration is. I think I know, but then discover I don’t. Etymologically the word has to do with having been breathed into, as if I emerged from medical school as some formless lump of clay into which divinities breathed and, as a result of all this exhalation, I became what I am. This leaves me feeling like something out of Gulliver’s travels, an inflated pig’s bladder on a stick. Perhaps I would have been more comfortable with the word influence.
Inspiration can come from any source and it can come at any time and is most treasured when it is least expected. Our inspirations, in important and fundamental ways, make us who we are: not in a slavish imitative sort of way but more in a point-of-departure, assimilated, sort of way. It is our inspirations that help us to answer Montaigne’s epic question from the 16th century – How to Live?
Montaigne – philosopher of Life
Maybe one answer to the challenge I have been set would be to do what the Beatles did, and commission Peter Blake to create a collage of my heroes, heroines, and other influences and inspirations.
But Peter Blake is getting on in years and I could not afford his fees – he was paid £200 for the artwork. It would be boring just to list the people and things that I think may have inspired me so, instead of a list, here is a set of cryptic clues to the identities of some of my sources of inspiration:
The landscape around the site of Oppenheimer’s first big test
A man who went off to work for a prince but when he arrived back home found that his wife (and their newborn child) had died whilst he had been away
A man from the North Country who is on a never ending tour
A paratrooper who studied the effects of particles
A Vice Admiral’s son who was nicknamed the Pope
A dean of St Paul’s who deprecated an insular view
The man who built a sandwalk
A toff who changed his name to that of a Suffolk river
The man whose daughter’s death led to the foretelling of his own
Ultimately, as an oncologist, most of my inspiration has come from those who have taught me the most – the patients.
Two final pieces of advice:
Know your song well before you start singing
Remember that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”