Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday 2014

A cross, drawn by pouring out a water bottle, briefly marks a spot where a young man was murdered in San Francisco's Mission district.
The Christian season of Lent begins with the admonition: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." I will go tonight to receive ashes drawn on my forehead. This is a ritual that feels right to me. I believe I would do better to live in the consciousness that we all die. But I don't do it, of course. There is something about being alive today that fosters the illusion I'll go on, and on, and on ...

I should note today the passing of Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, the author of How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter, a truly enlightening book. This is science, not mumbo jumbo. To read Dr. Nuland is to appreciate that we will die and that we have a relatively low chance of experiencing a "good death." We're human.

A couple of months back, George Johnson explored how, in the rich world, the usual causes of death are changing. More of us used to die from various manifestations of heart disease, but today's medical practice has advanced to the point that
when difficulties do arise they can often be treated as mechanical problems — clogged piping, worn-out valves — for which there may be a temporary fix.
Cancer, however, still cuts us down despite all the good efforts of the doctors; we all accumulate pre-cancerous mutations and, if we aren't run over by a truck or afflicted with Alzheimers, one of them is likely to get us.

Reading about how we die makes me wonder: are old people in our society frequently scorned and ignored simply because they remind us we're all going where they are -- unless we're unlucky enough to encounter the grim reaper before we get there? Seems likely.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

I kind of think we are better not to have too many procedures to keep us alive. A lot of people might have a better death if they let the first thing, that would take them, do it. I don't remotely mean don't do the logical things like control cholesterol and bp, but going to the next step might be where we go on past when we could have gone. My dad died younger than I'd want since he was 70 and so am I now. But he died having sex with my mother which for him was good if not for her. Mom died 17 years later from what I think was congestive heart failure. She did do the bp lowering but avoided doctors like the plague. She got the flu, didn't know she was dying, nor did we. She had been out cutting back blackberries only a few days earlier. Some do get good deaths; but some is how much is someone willing to do to avoid death? How frightened are they of it? There are some things we can't avoid but you made a good point-- something will get us. In some things we don't have a choice but in others we do. I guess none of us will know what we will do until we reach that time. A good death though is what we do all want.

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