Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: meaning

Kindling the Flame

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My birthday was last Monday. This was the first birthday I’ve ever been alone. Yes, people wished me a happy birthday at work (in fact, they took me out to lunch), and I heard from several people in person and many people wished me a happy birthday on Facebook, but when I went home at the end of the day, I was alone. That was a first in a long year of firsts.

I have been alone a lot lately and I understand that is the nature of things at this point. Friends seem far away and while I have a spark that my life is beginning again, the sparks right now seem only to flicker and then fade. I am hoping some of them kindle and flame. I’ll keep going because as Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

Things will change. I’ll be moving back to Rhode Island in June. I found a nice condo in East Greenwich big enough for me and the kids (who will be with me until they start graduate school). Getting back to Rhode Island will be going home. There is familiarity in it, even though I know nothing about East Greenwich. We will be close to family and friends once again and life will further kindle for me. I look forward to being home.

I know I need to start my life again. Whether that involves new hobbies or new people, I do not know at this point. I know that I want to get out of Texas. I want to leave all of the bad memories here and start anew. A friend of mine told me that I needed to find a meaningful life whether that involves happiness or not because it will be rich with significance. I hope I do have a meaningful life rich with significance, but I also hope it involves some happiness.

Soon, I will be putting the house here in Texas on the market and begin packing all of the belongings Lisa and I took to Texas to fight her cancer.  I do not consider it a lost battle. We gained seven years beyond her initial horrific diagnosis. I still marvel and shudder at what she endured to survive those seven years. More blood sticks that I can count, radiation burns, the barbaric side effects of systemic chemotherapy, radical surgery, wild clinical trials, nausea, neuropathy, headaches, coughs, colds, trips to the emergency room on holidays, and she waged this all-out war with an easy going manner to everyone else around her.

I still want to talk to her. I still reach for my phone to text her something funny. I still miss her every single day. When I’m especially down, I hear her in my head telling me to get on with my  life. And so I try, try, try again. I am alone, but I try not to be lonely.

I think the ultimate kindling is friendship and I am grateful for all of my friends. The ultimate flame is meaningful significance and I hope to be living that life. Happiness would pour gasoline on that fire.

Inhuman

PainPublilius Syrus in the first century B.C. wrote “when Fortune flatters, she does it to betray.” Plutarch reinterpreted this as “I see the cure is not worth the pain.” Somewhere over the past two thousand plus years we have lost the connection between humanity and the humane.

Setting religion aside and ignoring the politics and ethics of Dr. Kevorkian, it is, none the less, barbaric how we treat our loved ones at the end of their lives.

We have somehow bridged the moral abyss with compassion for our beloved pets by “humanely” putting our beloved pets out of their senseless misery, ending their meaningless pain, answering their pleading eyes with the selfless, heartrending compassion of euthanasia.

We have somehow sanitized capital punishment of the worst criminals from fatal and barbaric corporal punishment to a “humane” (although still debatably barbaric) dream-like sleep out of existence.

And yet, we allow our loved ones to face “natural” death filled with a fear, pain and confusion making anything that happened at Abu Ghraib look like Walt Disney World.

This suffering is multifaceted. Of course, there is the physical pain, which is no better controlled today than it was 50 years ago. The opioids still rule as the best we have to offer. The problem is that they are systemic, meaning that they travel throughout the entire body. If the pain is in the hip, the hip gets the morphine, but so, too, do the little finger, the ear lobe and the brain. The result is that the little finger and ear lobe are no better or worse, the hip suffers an incomplete relief of pain and the brain suffers the confusion, paranoia, nausea and narcolepsy unnecessary to treatment. This is the best medicine has to offer in 2014? The other suffering it brings is to the family members who must endure watching the physical suffering of those they love hampered by the incomplete relief of pain. Meaningless suffering is the worst kind. Love of another means the willingness to shoulder their burden. The helplessness felt by the family member watching their loved one jerk in pain or crying out as they try to move them or comfort them is an indelible stain on their soul.

The suicidal mission of cancer adds to the frustration. Bent on destroying its host, even at its own annihilation, cancer never rests. To paraphrase Siddhartha Mukherjee from his book The Emperor of All Maladies, cancer cuts the brake lines of some cells and jams the gas pedals of others, stopping the natural cell regulation process and sending the cancer cells into a proliferating frenzy steamrolling every other cell in its path. In his or her clearer moments, so too, the cancer patient undergoes a civil war; one side, engrained in all of us, pulls us to live, to continue fighting, while another force, armed with logic, understanding and ultimately love, forces the patient to begin facing the inevitable truth with no regrets and peace.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, concentration camp survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl describes inmates of the camps as surviving long stretches if they could find meaning in their suffering.  Some held on to the hope of outlasting the Nazis and returning to their loved ones (should any of them have survived), others found peace looking up at the sky and imagining conversations with their loved ones wherever they might then have been. Life was worth living if they held a kernel of meaning in their suffering.

I have searched and considered and yet find no meaning in the suffering loved ones endure at the end of their lives given the current state of medicine. Pain is pain and on a scale of 1 to 10, anything above a 1 means the medical field has failed. The root word of both humane and humanity is human, from the Latin humanus. However, we reserve those words for our treatment of pets and prisoners, not our loved ones. For them, and for ourselves, it is inhuman what we put them through, for them and for us it is nothing short of torture.