We die together

This is a short post to direct you over to the excellent, thoughtful piece by Joshua Briscoe published in the summer edition of The New Atlantis titled, “Dying, But Not Alone.”

Here are two of my favourite paragraphs:

A patient’s choice to end her life is not “defined” by her, if by that we mean that it is a choice that is just about herself. Rather, it is a declaration about what kind of life is worth living. It is thus also a statement about other people’s lives, a statement to others about when their own lives are worth living or not.

[…]

This is why choices about how we die are not just about us; they are also about how others think about us and are involved in our care. When someone says, “I would never want to live like that,” “She’s just a shell of who she once was,” or “This death is undignified,” the person is expressing our culture’s prejudices about aging and dying, and in doing so is further reinforcing them and thus shaping how others view themselves.

A lot has been written about the lonely and solitary dimensions of death but not enough attention is paid in our time to its social dimensions. Briscoe highlights this in his piece and makes the case that our cultural attitudes toward death concern and implicate us long before the hour of our death.

Be sure to take a look at his piece, here.

Fighting for the Right to Suffer

The other day I was listening to a talk by author Rod Dreher who, in discussing the contempt for suffering in our contemporary culture, brought up this excerpt from chapter 17 of Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World:

“But I like the inconveniences.”

“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to- morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.

“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.

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We are 38 million hostages

This morning I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

The story is about an idyllic town, flourishing with music, processions, decorations, horses, abundant food, flowers, bells, and so on.

The only trouble is that, in order to sustain all of this revelry and satisfaction, one child must be kept trapped in a small broom closet with no light, malnourished, naked, covered in sores, and sitting in its own excrement.

We read that, “this is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding.”

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Five years after Fr. Jacques was martyred…

For the past five years, I have carried this prayer card of Fr. Jacques Hamel in my passport holder. The elderly French priest’s martyrdom at the hands of Islamists while he was celebrating mass was very absorbing for me, particularly that summer of 2016.

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What would you die for?

On this anniversary of D-Day, I have become curious about educational materials pertaining to commemorating the Canadian contribution at Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944.

I also think that the fact of having roadtripped throughout Normandy to visit these sites in 2018 contributes to my inclination to pay attention to these anniversaries personally.

The Juno Beach Centre provides various resources to educators to assist in teaching new generations about the Second World War and the cost it took to defeat the evil of Nazism.

I am not sure whether these are the kinds of lesson plans actually being used in schools, but here are a couple of the activities that I consider to be interesting and worthwhile exercises.

Example #1:

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Think about what freedom really means

This evening I am recalling going with a friend to France on a trip that we themed: “Corpses, Cathedrals, and Combat.”

During our roadtrip through Normandy, we visited Bayeux.

There we came upon a memorial park, at the entrance to which we found a monument that said:

“Bayeux, which has witnessed a freedom dearly won has included the Memorial to Reporters in its ‘Liberty Alley’ to encourage the younger generations to think about what freedom really means.”

Parallel to that is a monument that says “Memorial to Reporters” and then:

“This place is dedicated to reporters and to freedom of the press. It is unique in Europe, forming a walkway among the stones engraved with the names of journalists killed all over the world since 1944.”

I took these monuments in with earnestness and solemnity, and I made a point of stopping especially at the monument that included the names of the Charlie Hebdo satirical journalists killed by Islamists in 2015 since I remembered this so well.

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Death is Contagious

Today I was reading through Henri Nouwen’s correspondence and came across some interesting reflections of his in a letter he wrote to a friend whose father had just passed away.

In a 1987 letter addressed to Jurjen Beumer, Henri Nouwen wrote:

Many thanks for your very kind letter. I am very moved by what you write about the death of your father. I am so happy that you had a good and cordial farewell. I realize how important that is for you, especially since you told me a little about the tensions in your relationship with your father. Somehow I am convinced that this is a very important moment in your life, a moment in which you are facing your own mortality in a new way and where your father will become become a new companion in your own journey. I am deeply convinced that the death of those whom we love always is a death for us, that is to say, a death that calls us to deepen our own basic commitments and to develop a new freedom to proclaim what we most believe in.

Have you ever considered whether the death of a loved one has been a mini-death for you in the way Nouwen describes?

Is it true that the death of a loved one “calls us to deepen our own basic commitments and to develop a new freedom to proclaim what we most believe in”?

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Is your work to die for?

Today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and this post examines Pope Francis’ beautiful Apostolic Letter “With A Father’s Heart” to explore the practical ways in which we can see work as a context for self-gift through which we fulfill the meaning of our lives.

I have organized the themes of the letter into the following eight categories. Each category begins with a excerpt from the letter and then includes a question or two for our contemplation of some possible practical applications.

1. Names and Relationships:

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Thou shalt not kill a book

This evening I’m thinking about these passages from Areopagitica, John Milton’s defense of freedom of speech against the restrictions of his day:

[…] for books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon’s teeth: and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.

[…]

We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom; and if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself; slays an immortality rather than a life.

Why are these excerpts coming back to me tonight?

Three years ago on this date, I was attending an event hosted by the Montreal Press Club with keynote speaker Dr. Jordan Peterson to honour the inaugural “Freedom Award” recipient Raif Badawi.

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I Want What You Have Lived And Suffered

Among my hobbies these days is attending a bioethics book club every two weeks on O. Carter Snead’s new book What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. The book is about how the dominant view in our time of persons as expressive individualists contradicts the lived experience of our embodied reality. Snead analyzes why we go astray in our public bioethics when we do not account for the realities of vulnerability and mutual dependence in and throughout our lives.

Most recently the study group finished reading the chapter on Death and Dying. In it, Snead notes: “By far the most common rationales cited for seeking assisted suicide were concerns about ‘losing autonomy’ (92 percent) and being ‘less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable’ (91 percent).”

Since there are many reasons why we can lose autonomy and the ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable, it is worth scrutinizing these ideas of “freedom” – the loss of which risks rendering life seemingly not worth living.

I am reminded of Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky’s reflections. In Sculpting in Time, he says: “And the longer I lived in the West the more curious and equivocal freedom seems to me. Freedom to take drugs? To kill? To commit suicide?”

He goes on:

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