8.08.2005

Thought-Provoking Article

I will admit it. Here, openly. I mostly read the newspaper for amusement. I love the Sunday Styles and Thursday Styles section (too embarrassingly fluffy to link to), but mostly adore Tuesday's beloved Science Times. All of this stems from the days when I read the comics and Ann Landers first, or exclusively. I still haven't gotten into the front section. Sometimes I read the Metropolitan Diary on Monday. I read as much of the Sunday magazine as I have time for, or as seems interesting, on a given week.

This past Sunday's magazine had a serious, thought-provoking, sad, and very resonant article. It was about death and dying, and what constitutes a good death. It gave some background on the hospice movement, which I found interesting. It also interviewed some people during their last months of life. It highlighted the choices that many people are faced with, as they near their last days. This is all very...discombobulated. I'm sorry. You should really read it yourself.

One of the reasons that this article resonated with me is, I think, because I've been thinking a lot about choices lately. All manner of choices. How many options are apparently open to me, and how difficult that makes life seem. Some naive part of me waxes nostalgic for the days when people had fewer choices. This is how things are, and then you make the best of it. Now, to some extent, I think we all just kind of float around, vaguely dissatisfied, hoping that we latch onto something meaningful, or that something (or someone) meaningful latches onto us. Now, we have almost unlimited choices, all the time. (There is some theory of economics that shows that the more choices people have...something interesting. I forget what. It turns out that people do better with fewer choices, was the upshot, I think.) We even seem to have unlimited choices about our death. We have learned to live so well that we can almost, almost, control death. But not really. People sometimes feel that they can choose which disease kills them, but they are sometimes denied even that. Ultimately, there are only a few things we can choose about how we die.

This article was very grounding. It took the floating feelings from me and smacked me upside the head with, "And, someday, you will die." I'm not sure what to do with that, but it's something to think about. Sorry, I'm still kind of flailing here, but maybe I'm getting something across?

The other thing that the article reminded me of was of my days volunteering at the Coolidge House Nursing Home, which I did from around 1993 until 2000, give or take. There were times when I went weekly, and I used to send postcards to the residents with whom I was most friendly, when I went away for vacation. The women there--and they were mostly women--died with such dignity. It was hard to be there, but it was also a unique pleasure to sit with them and talk when things got hard. They had lived such lives! I don't know if this makes much sense, but in their inevitable deaths, they honored life. And, of course, even more so, they honored life in their living. People are so brave, it boggles the mind sometimes. If I had to pick one thing that I'm the most glad I've done in my life so far, it would probably be choosing to visit the nursing home.

In any case, it's a very sad article, with many important things to say. Or, if not many, at least a few. And very appropriate for these Three Weeks/Nine Days, which are traditional periods of Jewish mourning for the loss of the Temple...and everything else. Everything we've ever lost, really.

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