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Born to Die, or not.

August 26, 2011 - Austin Porter
I don’t know if she is my first cousin once removed, but I do know she is my mother’s half-brother’s granddaughter. She just gave birth to her first child, a beautiful, as all babies are, and healthy, as some babies are not, girl.

This is always a happy occasion, and I am happy. But for some perverse reason, my thoughts turn to death. It could be my age, 3 score and 1 year, or the steady progress, like the aging process itself, of the hurricane off our eastern coast, or my dog Andy’s recent surgery and the Cushing’s Disease he suffers from. It might simply be something I ate or something like that, but dying is on my mind.

I have a friend from my 20s, a Navy veteran, whose partner has recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Fortunately, it was discovered early in its development and there is reason to hope that with surgery and chemo, she will survive.

A few years back, another friend fromcollege, a base player who lives in Provincetown, MA, lost her partner of nearly 2 decades to cancer.

I think it’s natural to want to distant oneself from the horrible things that can happen to people by searching for reasons that minimize the likelihood that those things might happen to you.

For instance, they got sick because they were gay and God doesn’t like gays. On the other hand, my mother died from ovarian cancer at a relatively young age (56) and she was straight as a ruler. Not that being straight is anything to brag about. We’ve got about as much control over our sexual orientation as we do over the course hurricane Irene will travel.

My mother was a decent human being. She was a den mother. The way things worked, each month there was a project all the dens worked on. At the end of the month, there was a joint meeting where everyone got to display their work. One project was making planters out of coffee cans and clothespins. Before the monthly get together, all but one den mother redid all her cub’s projects. When the kids showed up, most of them didn’t know which pot was his. My mother’s cubs didn’t have that problem. She was a decent person who intuitively knew what art was about – process, discovery, communicating with one’s self and others, satisfaction with a job done, happiness.

For a time, she worked in the office of a Baptist organization in Boston. One time at lunch, she took a walk. Surprise, there was a parade. Someone gave her a balloon which she took back to the office where she discovered it said, “I’m happy I’m gay.” She’d witnessed Boston’s first gay pride parade. She brought the balloon home where it floated over our dinner table while we ate.

Maybe that’s why she got cancer. She brought the balloon home. Or she didn’t eat enough cauliflower. Or she ate meat. Or she wasn’t optimistic enough. Or didn’t laugh enough. Or was too pessimistic. Or wasn’t demonstrative enough. I think she was just unlucky. In this life bad things happen, sometimes they happen to us or someone we love. And there ain’t much we can do about it.

Deciding to have a child, it seems to me, is a very serious decision. To bring someone into this world, unasked, into this imperfect world that is filled with imperfect people, is something to think about. One hopes that the good times will outweigh the bad, and many times they do, but not always. I suppose if things get too bad, if you don’t think your life is worth the suffering , you can check out – though suicide is certainly something to avoid at almost all cost. And if you’re contemplating it, talk to someone about it. You’re probably not making the right decision. Especially if you are young. And even when you are old, like me.

The heaviest thought is what happens if there is, in fact, eternal life. You’ve entered someone in a game where losing means an eternity of unrelenting, unimaginable suffering. And if your theology embraces predestination, then the game is fixed and you may have lost before you crossed the birth canal.

Of course, there are those who think a loving God would never send anyone to Hell. And there are those who think we recycle until we reach perfection. And there are…..

I know a person (He describes himself, I think, as a Buddhist/Christian) who recently told me that the Unitarian Universalists have been taken over by the KGB. The UUs are made up of sleeper cells and they're responsible for the malaise we Americans are currently suffering from. There's a joke about UUs. If one came to a fork in the road where one sign read “To Heaven” and the other “To a discussion about Heaven,” he would go the discussion.

Well to sum this up:

I don’t think we have anything to fear from the Unitarian Universalists.

I hope my mother’s half-brother’s, geat-granddaughter has a long and happy life.

I hope my friend's partner gets well.

And I don’t know which worries me more, that there is eternal life, or that there isn’t - we're just food for worms.

Just saying.

Interesting book that discusses the differing concepts of the afterlife over time: The Illusion of Immortality by Corliss Lamont

Dance of Death wood engraving by Michael Wolgemut 1493

My grandmother Alice. My father Myron. My grandfather Austin. And me.

Picture of my mother with a friend on my grandfather’s boat. Mom’s on the left.


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Dance of Death wood engraving by Michael Wolgemut 1493