“So how do you think it went?” Every reviewer’s apprehensive icebreaker. What can I say? I told him how I thought it went. It was OK. I was prepared, but nervous.

“You know, Dino, when you recently said you like music, I was shocked. Well, actually, shocked, I mean: I was surprised. When it comes to music, you can always work on your melodies, you can think about them, ponder them endlessly. You can’t really say the same about medicine. You have to be decisive, resolute. You set out a policy and you implement it.”

“That’s what I thought was missing in your presentation. The focus. The audience became distracted, they started looking at their phones. You have to forge ahead.”

Inadvertently, my thoughts meander. Where his sentence ends, my imagination begins. The CDA pops into my mind: “Let’s get on with it.”

The CDA is faltering. Its reasoning leans too heavily on a rigid interpretation of Christian democracy. In their eyes, the Netherlands consists of dew-soaked fields, with a scattering of overgrown blocks of flats here and there. Your average Dutchman: a family man, who soberly milks his cows every morning, obediently eats his potatoes and mince every evening, and treats his child to a toffee at bedtime.

But for many years now, the Dutch haven’t been buying into this idea. There are rumblings in the CDA. Recent polls show that the party would only win a humiliating ten seats. To get everyone pointing in the same direction again, a report was published recently about CDA’s ideology. The authors quote the composer Gustav Mahler: “Tradition ist die Weitergabe des Feuers, nicht die Anbetung der Asche.1

I don’t get much further than that with my musings. Behind the scenes of my daydreams, the first notes have started. I put my arms like a yoke over the shoulders of those on either side of me. Together we launch into Mahler’s Auferstehung. The whole of the Netherlands joins in our singing at the tops of their voices. Welling up with tears. A valkyrie emerges from the mist, and, breasts bared, the soprano sets in. The timpani roll: we are all swept up in a great climax.

Of extreme emptiness.

“Have you answered your research question in the end?” he rudely interrupts my train of thought. I startle. Yes, I have presented arguments, backed them up with articles, and put the findings to the specialists. I don’t have the clinical expertise, do I? The decades of experience?

He leans forward slightly, folds his hands together and smiles. “When you’re on the podium, you are the authority. The audience either has to accept what you say, or read all the articles themselves. No one is going to read all the articles. Be forthright with your answer, state your opinion boldly. Be convincing, stay focused.”

He reclines back into his chair. His face relaxes, his expression lightens. With a broad grin, he says: “Right! Let’s give you a seven then, shall we?”

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Medical student Dino Gačević has embarked on his foundation programme this year. Each…

  1. “Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame.” ↩︎