Neither cynical nor naive

It’s been five years since the death of Shimon Peres on September 28, 2016. Today was my first time watching the address that Barack Obama delivered at his funeral.

It is a remarkable eulogy, and it is hard for me to think of other statesmen or leaders about whom such a tribute has or could be given.

Below is the full speech on Youtube and here is the link to the transcript:

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Not Wholly Gone

This Father’s Day, I have noticed many people acknowledging the ongoing influence of fathers, grandfathers, and other father figures in their lives – even after these men have died.

It is interesting to consider the ways in which, through memory and legacy, a person can continue to be a part of a family even after death.

This evening, my mother shared an anecdote with me to this effect about my paternal grandfather.

My paternal grandfather was Polish and he died in 2015.

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Hope is death’s counterweight

This evening I was reading some of the poetry of Karol Wojtyła and came across a poem called “Hope Reaching Beyond the Limit.”

Take a look at these excerpted lines:

Hope rises in time
from all places subject to death—
hope is its counterweight.
The dying world unveils its life again
in hope.

[…]

But death is the experience of the limit,
it has something of annihilation,
I use hope to detach my own self,
I must tear myself away
to stand above annihilation.
And then from all sides they call and will call out:
“You are mad, Paul, you are mad.” [Acts 26:24]
I wrestle with myself,
with so many others I wrestle for my hope.

We need to exercise our disposition to hope.

Looking forward to the future.
Seeing the possibility of new generations.
Delighting in the glorious unpredictability of human affairs.

Otherwise, the limits of this life can “annihilate” our spirit.

What do you do to stand beyond the limits?

What do you do to wrestle for your hope?

Don’t Die Twice

Recently I have been reflecting on a particular chapter in the last book Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks published just before his death. The book is titled Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times and the chapter that I have in mind is titled “Victimhood.”

Rabbi Sacks opens the chapter with a discussion of Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor who lived to be 113.

During the Holocaust, Yisrael’s wife and children were murdered. And, after years in ghettos and concentration camps, he weighed just 82 pounds.

We learn that Yisrael remained a religious Jew throughout his life. He married another survivor with whom he had children and they settled in Haifa and opened a business selling sweets and chocolates as he had done in Poland.

Rabbi Sacks goes on to compare Yisrael Kristal to Abraham insofar as Yisrael was able to integrate into his life completely the transformative idea: “To survive tragedy and a trauma, first build the future. Only then, remember the past.”

“There are real victims,” Rabbi Sacks affirms. “And they deserve our empathy, sympathy, and compassion. But there is a difference between being a victim and defining yourself as one. The first is about what happened to you. The second is about how you define who and what you are. The most powerful lesson I learned from these people I have come to know, people who are victims by any measure, is that, with colossal willpower, they refused to define themselves as such.”

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The Humanness of Burial

I was pleased to see Fr. Raymond de Souza’s piece in the National Post titled, “What happened at the Kamloops residential school was an offence against humanity.”

In it, he discusses the thought of Hans Jonas, a German Jewish philosopher about whom I wrote my undergraduate thesis.

Separately from that thesis but very much related to these themes, I wrote this short academic paper in 2017 about what it is that sets human persons apart from animals and machines.

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Nationality and Death

A couple years ago, two of my friends who I greatly respect both recommended within a short time span of one another that I read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s book, My Father Left me Ireland.

I happened to read it during the 2019 federal election campaign.

These paragraphs, in particular, really struck me:

We are used to conceiving of the nation almost exclusively as an administrative unit. A nation is measured by its GDP, its merit is discovered in how it lands on international rankings for this or that policy deliverable. A nation may have a language, but the priority is to learn the lingua franca of global business. Our idea of doing something for the nation is reduced to something almost exclusively technical. Policy wonks are the acknowledged legislators of the world.

But there is nothing technical about the Rising. I see in the Rising that a nation cannot live its life as a mere administrative district or as a shopping mall; nations have souls. It’s a virtue when poetry colonizes our politics, even if today the situation is reversed. The life of a nation is never reducible to mere technocracy, just as the home cannot be, no matter how much we try to make it so. I see that nationality is something you do, even with your body, even with your death.

To some, the description of the nation as “an administrative unit” and “technocracy” might sound just right.

But, as is often the case, juxtaposition brings clarity and there is something attractive in the poetry of the irreducible and soulful idea of the nation about which Dougherty speaks.

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Having something at stake

This weekend I read Sohrab Ahmari’s new book The Unbroken Thread. While there is much upon which I could comment and that I plan to discuss with friends, for the purpose of this post I refer ever so briefly to his final chapter on death.

In this concluding chapter, Ahmari raises his twelfth question of the book: What’s Good About Death? (The other day an excerpt of this chapter was published, here.)

Throughout this section, Ahmari largely discusses Seneca, a Stoic philosopher who said, “Whoever doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want to live.”

In considering why this is, Ahmari explains:

Here is why: The state of being alive—fully alive—is possible only in relation to an endpoint, death. It is the certainty of an end to life that allows us to appreciate sacrifice, heroism, love, beauty, the kind of virtuous life a man like Seneca lived of the self-sacrificing death of a Maximilian Kolbe. As any decent novelist or screenwriter knows, if there is nothing at stake in the story, the story is boring. If there is no final terminus to life, life loses its vitality, its zest, its drama.

What is good about death is that its inevitability means that there is always something at stake in life.

The vulnerability of life increases its preciousness; the risk in life increases the adventure.

This “goodness” of death does not diminish grief or sorrow, though. Instead, it makes the drama of human responses to death intelligible, meaningful, and even capable of pointing beyond themselves to realities transcending this-worldly concerns.



Twitter Has a Character Limit that Epitaphs Do Not

Twitter has a character limit – by which I do not mean the 160 maximum characters allowed in a Twitter bio nor the 280 maximum characters allowed in a tweet.

Of course I mean to highlight the limits we find in bio blurbs and tweets when it comes to revealing anything substantive about a person’s actual character from a moral standpoint.

However, it is not the circumscribed brevity that leads to the omission of character.

The case in point for this for me came from reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21: Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs.

In the chapter titled, “With the Martyrs’ Families”, Mosebach recounts travelling to visit the homes of the families of the Coptic Christians who were martyred by Islamists on the coast of Libya in 2015.

These poor Egyptian Christian martyrs did not have Twitter accounts. In fact, Mosebach gives us a sense of their lifestyle by indicating that these men didn’t sleep on sheets, didn’t have bathtubs, and were likely acquainted with fleas and lice.

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What would you do with a longer life, anyway?

I just finished re-reading Leon Kass’s splendid essay, “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?

I was reminded of that 2001 piece when I read this interview published yesterday about Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput’s new book Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living.

Leon Kass begins his piece by exploring the primacy of life in Judaism and our wider culture’s interest in prolonging life and forestalling death.

Then, he raises some questions:

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Making Use of Languishing

Today there is a very interesting piece published in The New York Times titled, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”

This article describes the paradoxical combination of restlessness and lethargy that many people are now experiencing as “languishing.”

It turns out the etymology of the word is “to fail in strength, exhibit signs of approaching death” and the word is derived from the Latin word languere meaning to be listless, sluggish, and lacking in vigour.

The whole New York Times piece is very much worth reading because the author is not only articulate in describing the phenomenon but is also edifying in proposing some possible antidotes.

Adam Grant writes:

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