This evening I finished reading Jordan Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.
In the last chapter, Rule XII: Be grateful in spite of your suffering, Peterson mentions that he has repeatedly suggested to his various audiences “that strength at the funeral of someone dear and close is a worthy goal” and he notes that “people have indicated to me that they took heart in desperate times as a consequence.”
After a worldwide book tour and many other public appearances, Peterson has had the opportunity to test and play with his ideas with many audiences. And it is interesting to read his thoughtful reflections based on his careful observation of the reactions of persons in the audience.
Earlier in the book, he mentions, as he has said elsewhere, that he sees people’s faces light up whenever he speaks about responsibility. Peterson is keenly aware that people have been raised with a greater emphasis on rights and the corresponding sense of entitlement that ensues with this focus. Yet, a sense of responsibility is what ennobles and fills persons with a sense of their proper dignity and capacity.
Accordingly, this challenge to have strength at funerals is an extension of his usual exhortation to responsibility.
Around New Year’s 2015, my grandfather had been hospitalized and was in quite severe pain. I visited him in the hospital during the holidays but had left the city by the time his birthday came around a couple weeks later on January 17th. I just came across the following letter that I wrote to him, which ended up being my last birthday card to him. When I had visited him at the beginning of the month, he told me that the pain was so bad that he wished he could die. This was obviously difficult to hear and so, in writing to him, I felt greatly responsible to give him some encouragement.
Here is what I wrote:
Recently, I spoke with Ottawa resident Darryl Sequeira about his near-death experience fifteen years ago.
In September 2005, Darryl was a 20-year-old university student in Saint John, New Brunswick.
He got drunk at a party one night and was passed out in the back seat of the car of a friend’s friend.
Unbeknownst to Darryl, the driver was also drunk and so, “It was the wrong car to fall asleep in.”
When the drunk driver crashed, the driver broke both his legs, the front seat passenger broke his right arm, the guy to Darryl’s left broke his left arm and the guy to Darryl’s right managed to get just a few cuts and bruises.
Because Darryl had been the only one asleep in the vehicle, he suffered the worst consequences. The car flipped over three times and he flew forward.
Founder of modern palliative care, Cecily Saunders, was the 1981 Laureate of the Templeton Prize.
In her address, this section, in which she speaks about “achievement in dying”, especially struck me:
The first challenge was for the better understanding and control of pain. The seven years part time volunteer experience in St Luke’s and the later seven years full time developing this in St. Joseph’s laid the foundation for the increasingly sophisticated symptom control that means hospice today. There was much more to learn from St. Joseph’s from the strength and prayerfulness of the community of the Irish Sisters of Charity and, above all, from uncounted hours with the patients. It was they who showed me by their achievements how important the ending of life could be and many that I knew briefly and a few long stay patients, friends over the years, are the real founders of St. Christopher’s. One, another Pole, special among them all, left me other key phrases. When I told him he had not much further to go, he asked me, ‘Was it hard for you to tell me that?’ When I said that it had been, he said, ‘Thank you. It is hard to be told, but it is hard to tell too. Thank you’. We have to care what we say; this work is hard and demanding as well as rewarding. Two other things he said were separated by some three weeks. The first, ‘I do not want to die, I do not want to die’. The second, ‘I only want what is right’. Sometimes people ask me what I mean by achievement in dying. Here was one, Gethsemane made present today.
Later, in the same address she says:
Is it really possible to blog about death in a way that is consistently uplifting and enlivening every single day of the year?
It’s certainly a challenge.
And is it possible to tell edifying stories about the difficult, messy, and painful realities of life with grit and sincerity?
Not only is it possible. It’s vitally necessary.
“I’ve never tried cocaine or heroin but I believe the people that tell me it’s a very pleasing, pleasurable feeling,” began Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski in this talk.
He goes on to discuss how Carnation has long sold evaporated milk with the slogan, “Milk from contented cows.” The rabbi continues, “If contentment is the excellence of a cow and all I look for in life is contentment, then I share a goal in life with a cow, and I’m not ready to lower myself to that stage.”
Rabbi Twerski thought there’s nothing wrong with being content but that making contentment a goal of life is an animal trait, not the human vocation.