Cancer: No lose, win or fight

I didn’t realize it was breast cancer awareness month, but a notice at a restaurant chain might have alerted me. It said that an employee had “lost her fight against cancer,” and announced that certain proceeds of sales for the month would go to her family — an action that I hope uplifts the family without pushing aside any other families in similar situations.

Something about the notice bothered me, however. I know nothing about the woman who died except that she died of cancer and that she worked for that restaurant chain. But I have no reason to think that she was a loser.

That last remark sounds offensive, but in our noun-based culture, losing does mean more or less the same as being a loser. (Dealing with people or things in terms of what they do rather than what they “are” — what arrogance to think we could know! — is a huge matter, but let’s stick to what we have at hand.)

Ava, which was not this woman’s real name, had a family. She did not live to see her children grow to maturity and maybe get married and have children of their own, but she lived and nurtured life. That is fairly remarkable in a universe where more than 99.999999999 percent of everything we know seems to do nothing except for the odd chemical or nuclear reaction.

Of course, no one would come close to thinking that her death of cancer while she was relatively young overshadows her life, but we move in that direction by making a lost fight her epitaph. Some people “win their fight against cancer.” But not Ava, we hear. There are any number of reasons why, but winning and losing always have an undercurrent of ability or willpower. Any odds can be overcome if you try hard enough is a popular misconception. So to say that some people lose a fight with cancer is subtly to lessen them, however unintentionally.

Did Ava fight it? I ask because of how cancer acts: cells in the body reproduce, a necessary function, but in an out-of-control way. If we think we are separate from our body, then it would make some sense to say we could fight it. But a key point this blog makes, explained in The Logic, is that in our individual incarnations we are the sum of our parts. Some people — reputed psychic healers or yogis perhaps — might achieve unusual control over bodily processes, and we would be wise to investigate this, but most of us cannot will our bodies to change the way they act at the cellular level. We can no more fight our cells than we can force them to do things we want them to do.

The point I am trying to make here might seem of no consequence, but how we think about death reflects a lot of how we think about life. Human life begins with our coming into a particular, individual form of existence, ends with our departure from it and includes everything in between, without exception. Usually it lasts a good number of years, but not always. And lives that last shorter than others are not battles lost. No one loses a fight with old age, or with a natural disaster, or with faulty electrical wiring.

We die, at different times of life, in various and sometimes painful ways, almost always before we would wish it. In that respect, we are all born losers. Or we are all born winners through the remarkable achievement of life through us. And we die, sometimes of cancer. Enough said.

9/11: The pain and what we can still learn from it

9-11-2569/11 was a tragedy of unbounded proportions for all touched painfully by it. I can only hope that those who suffered great loss that day have somehow found some peace in the time since. As a nation we certainly have not found any.

We rightfully felt the unspeakable injustice of innocent lives cruelly cut short, but as a nation we failed to fully enter into the grief of those whose loved ones died that day. Had we done so, we might have realized that what we were feeling was not so different from what families in Southeast Asia and Central America felt at the hands of US or US-backed forces.

This is not some anti-US rant. So please don’t misunderstand it as such. It is a plea for people to touch into the pain we experienced and realize it is the same pain that Vietnamese and Cambodians and Salvadorans and Guatemalans and Nicaraguans Continue reading

Mandela and a need for greatness

Mandela gazing through bars at former prisonThere is no need to add to the chorus of praise for Nelson Mandela. He deserves it all. I wonder, though, if some of the fervent singing is due not to who Mandela was, but to a sudden fear that the breed of politicians who rise to the rank of great statesmen has passed with him.

Mandela by his own insistence was not a saint. None of us are, of course, but his acknowledgment seemed a deliberate attempt to discourage a personality cult. While that puts him all the closer to sainthood, I’ll honor his self-assessment and merely accuse him of humility and wisdom.

Sadly, however, he undermined his claimed unsaintliness by refusing to serve more than one term as president. Perhaps he was just old enough to know better at that point, but even that would amount to uncommon wisdom. Not uncommon for an average person, but tragically uncommon for a politician.

It is that distinction, between common people and politicians, that grabs hold of me when I think of Mandela and his legacy. Continue reading

Fracking protest focuses on Earth, life

MiKmaqStopSignThe opposition of native Mi’kmaq people to fracking exploration in New Brunswick puts a sharp focus on the bond that links us to the Earth. Their shameful treatment at the hands of Canadian authorities puts an equally sharp focus on the need to stop rushing to exploit our world, sacrificing our humanity in the process.

The basic story has received little mainstream coverage, so I’ll summarize it before looking at the bigger clash of world views. Continue reading

Dialogue: more than just listening

blue-redThe government shutdown, which had most people wondering what has happened to American politics, has spurred laments over the lost art of dialogue. How have we reached the point that the people elected to govern the country cannot sit down and talk to each other?

In many ways, this situation reflects the wider situation in the country, where name-calling and self-righteous posturing have replaced debate. Many people are talking, and all too often parroting the same words that their comrades are copying and pasting all over cyberspace, but who is listening?

Sadly, however, the problem goes even deeper. More than just listening, people can dialogue only if they are open to being changed by what other participants say. Continue reading

Memorial Day: In memory; In hope?

USMC-10856It’s Memorial Day again, and as good a time as any to reflect on the lives of so many people who died or were seriously disabled, mentally and physically, trying to make the world a better place. And each has my great respect and thanks for acting so selflessly.

At the same time, I’d like to tell anyone ready to follow in those footsteps: Please, don’t do it. At least not unless you are personally sure that it is absolutely necessary: that it will indeed make the world a better place and there is no other way. Otherwise, I, for one, would rather have you with us, working to make the world a better place in so many smaller but perhaps more effective ways, day by day by day.

A friend recently wrote a moving post after the dedication of a memorial to local residents killed in service. Continue reading

A new start

All of The Logic of Compassion is available to read online. For now I will keep earlier posts tagged “Core” only because of some insightful comments. But as soon as I figure out how to migrate the comments to the appropriate chapters, I will delete those posts, since they just recycle material better read as part of a whole. So as of May 2013, posts will take the material in the main menu link “The Logic” as a starting point and roam over a wider range of connections. I look forward to hearing from you!

The primacy of love, and the benefit of the doubt too

The key to answering the nagging question of utilitarianism – to the extent that it can be answered – lies in the primacy of love. As outlined in the last post, love is the momentum of unity. It is not chosen or willed. The experiential encounter of life with other instances of life can bring it to the fore if it has been hidden beneath layers of self, but it is always present even if not known or recognized. Justice, on the other hand, is a reflection on unity. Experience comes before reflection, and hence love before justice, even the expanded sense of justice we developed.

The concrete question we were struggling with at the end of that development was whether it would not be in the interest of life as a whole to remove “flawed” instances of consciousness – people who for one reason or another can’t or won’t cooperate, who insist on harming others or place great burdens on available resources. Let’s begin by asking another question: acting out of love, can we destroy life? Continue reading

No choice but to love

There is much more to discuss about the self, but we left something hanging at the end of the second Justice post – whether or not the concept of justice as outlined tended toward a utilitarian justification of anything “for the common good,” or the perceived advantage of the many. I said then that we first had to look into what love means, and I think it is better to do this sooner rather than later. Continue reading

No justice for Trayvon or anyone else

The concept of justice outlined in the last two posts grew out of the preceding discussion on the self.  It deals with life as a whole, but does it apply on the scale of life as we live it day-to-day? Does it have anything to say, for instance, about the Trayvon Martin case, which is attracting so much attention?

I say “case” in particular, because whatever it is all about, it is not about justice for Trayvon. It is sadly too late for that, as it was all along. Continue reading