Thursday, July 19, 2007

Between Life and Death

Two apparently healthy men die of sudden heart attacks. A father fights cancer. Doctors concerned about cyst on girlfriend's back. Mother's feeding tube removed. Grandmother dies peacefully. Sisters attend uncle's funeral. Mother-in-law accidentally poisoned by carbon monoxide. Grandfather sent to assisted living. Brother needs an intervention. Husband rushes to hospital to have laceration examined. Son burns face, neck, and chest.

A lot can happen in half a year. I have a personal connection to each of those stories, though some are more remote than others. But this is the human experience: we are suspended between birth and death for a short while, and forces both grand and mundane seek to extinguish our humble existence. We are programmed as living organisms to strive against these forces. There is nothing special about this struggle; it merely places us among the animals of the natural world. We are transcendent only through our capacity to empathize beyond our filial relationships and our immediate social network, and by our ability to act upon those feelings. Today let us feel empathy.

3 comments:

J G-W said...

"We are transcendent only through our capacity to empathize..."

Never a truer word was spoken. Thanks for this reminder of how fragile life is.

I've been reflecting a lot lately on the true nature of empathy. The antithesis of empathy is judgment. I wonder if, after all, the impulse to judge another's misfortune isn't born of our own insecurity, our desire to distance ourselves from another's suffering, to convince ourselves that their misfortune couldn't possibly happen to us. To relinquish judgment is to acknowledge our commonness, to accept that but for the grace of God, there go I...

Knight of Nothing said...

Thank you for your words, John. It's been a rough week, and I've reflected a lot upon recent events myself. Your observations about empathy and judgment are elegant and profound. I'd never thought of it in quite that way.

The link contained in my post was wrong, wrong, wrong. I somehow managed to screw it up. It was supposed to be a link to Kohlberg's stages of moral development, but I find that Fowler's stages of faith development are more suited to the piece. Both are interesting, however. Check them out.

I inserted the link to try and reinforce the idea that we must individually and collectively grow and evolve. We must strive to rise beyond mere flesh and bone to see inter-connectivity with all humanity. I think the pinnacle of moral development is achieved through a conscious abandonment of our biological habits and limitations. Your comments on empathy and judgment are an eloquent way of expressing this imperative.

J G-W said...

I read Fowler's work for the first time about 20 years ago, when he had first published his theories on faith development. At the time, I was in the employ of an Episcopal Priest in Boston who was fascinated by Fowler. I found him fascinating too. I was still reading him and quoting him and talking about him to everyone who would listen around the time I first met your wife!

The current editor of Sunstone magazine is kind of a Fowler fan too...