This phrase started spinning in my mind this afternoon, driving home from work. What was the fragile stream of thoughts that brought it up? Thinking is such a fleeting activity! Especially good thoughts -- they alight for a moment, like a shy forest creature, then they bound away. The bad thoughts, on the other hand, the worries that keep me up at night or memories of petty conflicts -- those linger! (I'm getting better at telling them to get lost, though!)
I was remembering my best friend's dad, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease, surely one of the crueler ways to die. The mind stays intact while the body disintegrates and stops functioning. Eventually, the person cannot swallow or eat unaided anymore. This man, Paul, and his whole family, were pillars of Christian faith. His daughter led me to the church, where I remain today. But the end of his life was a great struggle for Paul. He wrote a letter about it, which his family distributed to friends and family when he died. He said that where he was going, we all must go, but he did not go there willingly. He was kicking and screaming the whole way to the end!
So it seems that whether or not we are people of faith does not necessarily change how we face death. There was Henri Nouwen, who had a near-death experience and an encounter with his Lord and savior, and did not want to come back to life, the great vale of tears, ever again! But there are many people like Paul, who cling to life until the last breath is drawn.
The attitude of the faithful toward the plight of Terry Schiavo always confused me. If deeply religious people believe that we go to heaven when we die, why would they want someone to remain here in the lowest condition, force-fed, possibly against her will? The crux of the matter in that case was that no one knew the will of Terry herself, just what her family desired. Different family members wanted different things, and we all got to watch the drama unfold in our living rooms.
The religious right have a "culture of life" they want to promote to give everyone the "right to life." I dispute that we ever have a right to life. If that's true, why do so many people die young? What happened to their rights? Someone trampled them! Was it God, or Satan, or some merely secular force at work? Some die before ever being born, some in the process of birth, others soon after, and on and on.
There is no right to life if you are living here on earth. It's a ludicrous idea. People in African countries have even less right to life than the rest of us, apparently, given the younger average age at which they die. Having a "right" to anything is a particularly human concept, I think, not helpful but clinging to the illusion of control (as Buddhists would say, the root of all suffering). Life is never a right. It's a precious and fleeting gift, and there is no guarantee that you will have it for any particular length of time.
I wish that the outrage directed at abortions could also be directed against the atrocities that full-grown people commit against one another all the time. If an unborn child is deserving of that much respect and attention, what about people out of the womb? I don't like to think that some people may be using the emotional attachments that babies command to manipulate people's emotions, and their beliefs, and their vote. And what about all the causes of a shortened life that we could control or end -- malaria, AIDS, poverty, disease, violence, lack of access to clean water and food? While we sit in relative luxury in the U.S., most of us hoarding our money and other resources, people are dying around the world. These are our brothers and sisters. What are we doing about it? I don't have the answers. I'm as guilty as anyone else of having my blinders on, so I can continue doing the things that are comfortable for me in my little insulated box that I call a life.
Honestly, I don't sit down with the intention of ending up here, but I always seem to get to this big question -- it's the BIG one, honey! -- why so much suffering? Why can't we end it?
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