There be dragons!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dying with Grace (an exchange with a student)

A student sent this link to me.  The following is my response and the resulting conversation:

Sad.  Despairing of life in general.  Little hope for a future, an afterlife, potential renewal or anything.  Typical of the Red Star Tribune Rag.  Yet another reason why I don't read that depressing bit of pulp.

From: AT
Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 12:08 PM
To: WjkL

When I finally read this, my biggest question was if he had thoughts of suicide before the sickness presented itself. I wonder if this was almost a cop out to say that it is because of the sickness that he is killing himself. It also makes me wonder if eating chocolate and traveling is what this man would define a good life as.

From: WjkLThu, Sep 22, 2011 at 12:20 PM
To: AT
Well, it is harsh for any of us to judge too sharply the terminally ill.  It does seem, though, a bit too maudlin and depressing a piece of writing to tell all the world your sadness and sorrow over your own miserable demise.  After all, aren't we all sad and sorrowful?  Aren't we all doomed to die?  Aren't we all suffering our own little suffering?  Given that, what choice is it of a person to proclaim to the world their sorrow and spread the darkness of misery among the race rather than to continue to proclaim goodness and nobility even to the end.  Even when he was dying of cancer my father continued to proclaim love, nobility, honor, and the glory of life.  Theat was a god cunyng!  This poor fellow, though I pity him, understand his sorrow, mercifully let him do what he thinks best, nevertheless I consider it distasteful to proclaim to the world.

From: AT
Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 12:32 PM
To: WjkL

I have been thinking a lot about death lately. Specifically death by cancer, as I know someone who just passed away from colon cancer. He died recently, just during all of the press about the 9-11 victims. It has me wondering if there are degrees to which dying can be honorable. I have always understood dying for something that you love to be something to be respected and honored. Not meaning to be callous, I would ask if you would consider dying of a disease to be honorable. I would think that we would want to celebrate and think about the person's life as honorable rather than the way they died. In this man's case, it seems to me that he wants people to focus more on his death than the way he lived.

From: WjkLThu, Sep 22, 2011 at 1:44 PM
To: AT
"degrees to which dying can be honorable" - of course.  Death is a part of life, it's true, and the man who has two months to live with Lou Gehrig's disease is going to die just as surely as the man who has a cardiac arrest at the age of 80.  When we "celebrate" a person, remember who they were, remembering their death is included.  How we die, as the Norse said, defines how we have lived.  Nor do we face death without preparation before hand. All our life is, in a way, a preparation for death - as Plato would say of philosophic inquiry.  For Plato, to make a life of inquiring into the nature of things, examining mystery, marveling at the thaumatapoioi, allowed us to face that ultimate terror with courage and love.  For Aristotle habituating ourselves to virtue allowed us face death with a lifetime of habitual courage and decency - thus not to fail at the last.  

I say it as one who hasn't yet faced his own demise (a paradox which is amusing since I'm not allowed to comment on being black b/c I'm not black, nor comment on being a woman b/c I'm not a woman, so I guess I can't comment on being diseased or dying since I have no serious diseases and am not dead) - but the manner in which we face death, endure hardship, show excellence in the face of defeat, ultimately will be remembered.  So too will our cowardice at the end, our avoidance of pain and suffering, our selfish escape from this world when so many others depend on us.  That might sound cruel in our kinder gentler age, but it strikes me as ironic that in our kinder gentler age we've caused the death of millions of innocents, young, old and unborn; turned a blind eye to the suffering of everyone around us; insulated ourselves in narcotic comforts; and been unable to face with even a modicum of courage the painful grittiness of human existence.

In all honesty I read the article until I got to the word "gay" and it was there that I read the answer to the problem.  I have a corresponding friend in Texas who is a recovering homosexual and his biggest problem with gay people is that they refuse to take responsibility for their actions - refuse to face that they can and ought to change their world - they whine and simper about the hardship of their life and never concern themselves with the fact that other people have it much much worse than they.  I think he's spot on, not just about homosexuals, but about the whole three generations of men (and women) who have no concept of anything outside their sad sorry little worlds.  

I have little sympathy for the writer of this article especially since now that the article is written it stands as a permanent ensign of despair to everyone else.  Unlike that great beacon on the hill in Beowulf signifying the heroic death of the dragon-slayer, this is no more than a greasy stain on the ground.  But it will encourage many others to pursue a similar route of despair and to quietly accept amongst their peers the "death with dignity."

From : AT

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 2:07 PM
To: WjkL

The thing you wrote that struck me most was that your friend is a "recovering homosexual". I would like to hear more about this if you are willing and would like to share. I must admit that when I read "gay" it changed my perspective on the whole thing. I have struggled with the whole idea of homosexuality, especially being at PA and The Basilica. On one hand I am critical of it, and on the other, I sympathize with them and feel that I have no business commenting on it as I am not one. Most of all, I find myself at a loss for words when someone tells me that I am against people loving each other. But then again, what do they think is love?

What you said about people living in their own worlds resounds with me, as I hear the words "Soon you'll be out in the real world" quite often. It makes me wonder what world I have been living in for 17 years. As I see adults who are out in "the real world", it makes me realize that just because someone is out in "the real world", the are not there because of any worthiness on their part. I used to think that the childish behavior that I see in high school would be gone once we all got into "the real world". I have come to realize that age does not make up for a lack of knowledge or responsibility. Not wanting to become to accustomed to my view up on this soap box, I will say that as I have gotten older and seen more, I have realized that I have so much more to learn and see, and that my troubles and triumphs are not something that the world wants to hear me babble about.

From: WjkLThu, Sep 22, 2011 at 2:28 PM
To: AT
No, the world at large, people at large, only want a mild and expected form of grumbling ("my job sucks", "I have this pain in my toe", "the Vikings are terrible") but are normally turned off by excessive grumbling or by serious and profound grumbling ("there is no God", "we are all worm food waiting to happen", "life is a meaningless succession of tiresome encounters", "hell is other people").  It's a real art to learn how much to gripe and when and where and it's a greater art to learn how to be fairly cheerful without being overly treacly.

And you're right, the RW is filled with people who are there by default - sleepwalkers - somnambulists - people who still go through the same pettiness and ignorance of childhood and young adulthood.  But change is always possible so there is hope for us all.  Part of the adventure of life is learning how to be an agent of such change.

And thus is my pal's critique of homosexuals.  The critique isn't about "preventing people from loving each other" nor is it about "being a hater" - rather it's about noticing that the homosexual act, and the attitude that accompanies the choice to engage in that act, is a selfish, myopic, whiny, inglorious and ultimately cowardly choice (his words not mine).  We all fall in and out of love with numerous people during our lifetime, some of opposite sex and some of the same.  There is nothing wrong with such loves.  We frequently find ourselves attracted physically to other people; it just happens.  But to act on every spark of love and every physical impulse is lethal.  Who's to say that one person's deep seated love of their pal, even accompanied by physical attraction, must find expression in consummation?  That bespeaks a lack of self-control, disregard of the conventions and sensibilities of others, selfishness on the part of the actors.  Love may be between two people, but every act of love is actually a very public business.  We have grown so accustomed in our society to a sense of "right to privacy" that we forget that love between a married couple results in the public display of children; love between unmarried couples results in the public display of excluding others, and children; love between friends results in the public display of unity and community building; love between coworkers or between one person living and another deceased (like me for Plato or Shakespeare) results in conversation and productivity.  There is no act of love that isn't a public statement to some degree.  Thus I find it entirely wrong-headed to claim that any two people can express their love without some involvement in the community of man.  We choose, therefore, either to be part of that community or to eschew it and live a secluded, lonely, self-indulgent life that ends (it seems) in suicide.

From : ATThu, Sep 22, 2011 at 2:45 PM
To: WjkL

Are you saying that all people can feel physical attraction to both sexes? I am a little confused by this. If that is true, why do we even distinguish between gay and straight? Why do gay people say that they were "Born this way" and that they don't have any physical attraction to the opposite sex?

From : WjkL

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 2:19 PM
To: AT
IMO "gay" and "straight" are artificial distinctions that deprive us of the ability to see a person as a person.  A "gay" man is first and foremost a man - capable of greatness, nobility, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility and charity.  To judge him as gay or straight pigeonholes him and puts him at the mercy of preconceived notions.  Same with "gay" or "straight" for women.  What the distinction points to is our societal fixation with sexuality rather than with accuracy in the orientations of desire.  IDK if anyone is "born gay" or "born straight" though I have a leaning to think that no one is "born gay" (or such instances are so few in number as to be negligible).  What I lean toward, though I speak without hard evidence, is that there are some little boys and some little girls who are more sensitive, open to the world, thoughtful and quiet - mystic, shamans in another culture - or adventurous, wild, inquisitive - shield maidens & warriors in earlier times - who at an early age suffer some debilitating trauma (mother oppression, abuse by peers, molestation) from which they never fully recover.  This trauma prompts them to seek solace in the affections and attention of people of their own sex, to eschew the conventions of masculinity or femininity, to see the opposite sex as threat not potential partner.  In prior eras culture had embedded in its customs certain rites that would help such youngsters become better incorporated into the society.  Such customs no longer seem to exist and such trauma w/o any vehicle for correction is a recipe for disaster.  Add to this the sex-saturated culture that creates confusion, sexual poisoning, experimentation and hedonism in even well-meaning undamaged young people and we have a societal crisis.  Why, for instance, has the number of professed homosexuals risen in the last 50 years?  Some in the LGBT community want to claim its b/c societal norms have lifted and LGBT individuals feel more free to proclaim their LGBT-ness to others (whereas before they lived lives of oppression, fear and sneaking about).  But the alternate interpretation is that, since the turn of the century we've seen a breakdown in the old customs already on the skids, a rise in pornography and access to pornography, an increase in molestation and abuse, a skyrocketing of divorce and easy access to the dissolution of marriages, and a cheapening of human life in the form of abortion.  Seems to me that what we are experiencing is not a birth of freedom for gay people but a toxic brew for everybody that depletes people of the courage to take responsibility for their own lives and prompts many people to retreat to the apparent safety of same-sex partnerships.

Finally, yes I'm saying that all people can, potentially, feel physical attraction to both sexes - that's how we're wired as sexual beings.  Some people have at some times a greater attraction to the opposite sex and some people have at some times a greater attraction to the same sex (both of which might change with time), but the attraction is different from the action and that's where the real problem lies.  We are not held responsible for the ideas and urges that emerge from the subconscious, we are only responsible for what we do with those ideas and whether we are willing to take responsibility for our own choices or whether we choose to remain enslaved to the "fate" of the gods of our physical desires.

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