Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Life Itself - Matter over Mind

As I struggle to come to terms with yet another impending death, I must apologize for returning to a theme that I have only recently declared too trite to write about.  Furthermore, I have so far chosen to avoid writing about this particular death, involving, as it does, the other Reader of this babbling brook of a journal, my dear and beloved mother-in-law, Billie. So much for the good intentions.

Billie is dying of cancer.  There is no easy way to put it.  Moreover, she is entering what can only euphemistically be called the final stage of her life.  It's not easy to die, and it's even harder to talk about it rationally.  Valery is leaving this Sunday to care for Billie in what surely seems like her last few months and perhaps even weeks.  Valery is true to her name: strong and willing, without guile or mission other than to comfort and care for her mother.

On the other hand, while facing this death, I find myself thinking about life in general and specifically the notion that we should somehow find a way to end it when it gets too bad.

The 'Quality of Life' is a quite naturally considered to be a big end-of-life issue.  But if you really think about it, it's essentially a false one. This is because after receiving one's death sentence, the quality of life seems very much diminished if not completely and forever destroyed.  It doesn't matter how good your attitude was before receiving the news or even how good it seems to be after.  It's simple:  Contemplating the beauty of a flower is easier--possible even--if you know you'll live to see more flowers.  Otherwise it can be but another morbid reminder of the inevitable: Death.

Given that death is inevitable, why not do the reasonable thing and end one's own life oneself?  Why doesn't this happen more often?  I don't mean suicide, generally, but euthanasia specifically.  Suicide is rightly considered irrational, but all the unnecessary and cruel end-of-life suffering that is endured in the name of Life is not.  The question is, why not?

Issues of mess and insurance aside, it seems perfectly logical (or reasonable anyway) to plan the end to one's life.  In theory, at least, ending one's life on one's own terms at a time of one's own choosing seems to be ideal.  Why then, is killing oneself so hard to pull off?  Why do perfectly reasonable and rational people fail to make adequate provisions for their death or worse, fail to execute those plans?  Moreover, why do so many people, good and smart people all, choose to ignore the obvious, choose to wither away and choose to die in misery and in pain?  Why do we choose to wind it down instead of blow it out?

I think it has to do with biology (the body), not psychology (the mind), alas.  For example, I know that Billie would do her best to die quickly and with grace, but in spite of her best wishes and intents, she cannot control the final force of life--her life even--itself.  She cannot just go to bed and fall asleep. I think, that's a good thing, even it it doesn't appear to be the case.  But why?

My feeling is that it's because, as we all know at some level or another, Life is really much more than mere thought.  Life is more than the body, the heart or the nerves or the blood.  Life has its own agenda, largely independent of thought and emotion if not the body itself.  Simply put, Life simply ends with death, and it doesn't make plans for a soft landing.

This is not a cruel joke, even if it appears that way to those who must watch their loved ones perish slowly and painfully.  It's really just the reverse.  The will to Live is an affirmation of what makes us more than mere matter and gives us meaning that transcends death.

Life is so powerful and so relentless that, could it speak (and when it does, of course, it is through us) it would tell us, it would plead with us, it would reason, argue, cajole and finally demand of us that we simply leave it be, let it rot and rust and run down until it breaks and stops altogether.  The force of life, manifest though it may be in thought, lives in the cells.  And Life at the cellular level holds not to the high ideals of the electric impulses coursing around through the brain.  At it's lowest level, Life is determined--it is only determined--to resist its own termination, the very definition of inertia.  And really, is not all Life defined by this common denominator?

Yes it is.  In the contest between the inertia of Nature and the will of Man, the force of Nature trumps the force of Mind every time. It's a simple equation but perhaps only obvious when finally faced with one's own death.  Sadly, being resigned to the inevitability of death is not the same--not even close--as having the will (to say nothing of the ability) to kill oneself.

This force of Life, this desire to beat and pulse and march and move until there is nowhere left to move, until there is nothing left to march to and no reason to beat or pulse on is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  Life is not a moral force, nor is it an invention of the mind, but an actual physical force.

Yes, I know, of course that this is not a new idea.  Knowing this and in spite of Star Wars' decades-long shameless exploitation of this notion, I still think it bears repeating. Life is so powerful and pervasive that it has literally transformed this planet and, I suspect, the whole of the Universe itself. Small though this little sandbox be--as a function of the cosmos--the Earth is also large enough and potentially inhospitable enough to have represented a significant obstacle to the advancement of life.   Yet it did not.

This planet is not suffering from Life.  This planet is Life.

Life is the unmeasured, the unstoppable force in the Universe. Life is an imperative, inevitable and ubiquitous.  Just as the spread of life on of the Earth was inevitable, so is the expansion of life throughout the Universe.

But it is a mistake--a myth, really--to think that Life started here, and that it will spread out from here.  It is natural to imagine that our collective Life--our Earth--will continue to expand, from this planet into the farthest reaches of space, but that is just because the notion of expansion conforms to our own creation myths.  Of course it does.   What else might we conclude?

I think we can conclude that Life has already expanded.  Life is already everywhere it can be, and perhaps even in all the forms that it will be.

The fact that we feel alone, that we feel like Life is here and only here on Earth is evidence only of our own limited and self centered thinking, and that is a frequently forgotten historical lesson.  After all, it felt right--natural even--to think that the Earth was flat, that Sun revolved around the Earth, or that the Four Humors governed our health.

But as we've learned time and again, feeling right is an insufficient test of reality.  So, we return to test reason again.  We throw out some knowledge as false and begin again, knowing, as we do, that reason is a flawed process.  It's all we have, however, and I think it works quite well.  Even if reason will not give us the satisfaction of always knowing everything, the consolation is always knowing that everything is knowable.


Dylan Ishmael said...

Loved your entry. Best of luck.

Dylan Ishmael said...

Thanks for your kind note on the blog. I really enjoy reading your writing. You're quite a writer! And you can tell that it's from a need to do it, too. The urgency and honesty with which you write is refreshing!