Credo est

Part 1

Pretend that I am right; that our every thought and action is determined by the unalterable laws of cause and effect; that we are like so many rocks being tossed about as they roll down a hillside.

Peggy returned from settling her mother’s estate in Mississippi with a collection of family photos. Among those photos were school pictures from the 1940s of Peggy’s aunt for whom Peggy was named.

When she was in her forties, Aunt Peggy shot herself while lying in her bathtub. Her family came home to find her helpless with a collapsed lung. She recovered.

Aunt Peggy soon shot herself again. This time, she was left a quadriplegic. Several years later, she died.

Had I been a boy in her school, I would have tried to date Aunt Peggy. I know this because I like the way her eyes look in those old photos—mischievous, sensual, flirtatious—qualities irresistible to young males... Would you want to know how you will die?

I look at Aunt Peggy’s old photos, so filled with promise and life, and I wonder what she would have said had an angel offered her a vision of her final years? Among all possible lives, hers would have been among those that might be described as purest hell.

I knew her before she shot herself, but having moved to Oregon, I never visited her afterwards. It would have meant a long trip and, knowing something about her life, I had no thought that she would talk to me openly.

Her family blamed Peggy’s husband for her attempts at suicide. It’s easier to blame someone, anyone, other than your daughter or sister, I suppose. But if I am right, she had no choice. She never, from the foundation of the universe, had any choice. Would it have mattered? Unless we were able to know where our choices would lead, the freedom to make different choices would be of questionable benefit. I’ll give you an example.

A local man was a professional bodybuilder. He wasn’t among those who are pumped up on steroids, but a man who was sincerely devoted to healthy living. One day, a squirrel ran into the spokes of his bicycle. When he woke up in the hospital, he was informed that he was now a quadriplegic, and that he might never be able to live without a respirator. He insisted that the respirator be removed; it was, and he died.

Two people on opposite routes reach the same end; the one who never wanted to die chose death, while the one who longed for death continued to eat, and by eating, to live. I can make no sense of this, and if I am right, there is no sense to be made, because neither really got to choose. Their paths were determined from the foundation of the universe.


Part 2

I’ll tell you something that I have learned about suffering. Suffering admits no visitors. No matter how much you want to be understood, you cannot; or at least, I cannot; or at least, I feel that I cannot. This is mostly bad, but it is not altogether bad. Sometimes during the day, I will be thinking about the hours I lie awake hurting, and there will come to me a certain nostalgia, an almost glad anticipation of the coming night. Yet I would not for the space of a heartbeat choose to suffer. It is another irony to see some poorly defined good in that which I wish with my whole heart to avoid.

What is this good?

The recognition that I am thrown back upon myself to survive such nights. I subsist on hope for a better future, it is true, but I cannot help but think I would want to survive even if I knew I would suffer equally every night for the rest of my life. I cannot explain this except to say that suffering brings the possibility of redemption. But what is redemption? Redemption is freedom from appearances. Redemption is to know reality at its worst, yet to still love reality. Or so it comes to me. Maybe I am insufferably pollyannish; I suspect I am.

Why?

I knew a man who lived across the street from another man whose wife died. No one saw the bereaved for weeks after the funeral, so they finally broke into his house. He was there, in his chair, still dressed in the clothes that he wore to the funeral. He had sat, and he had urinated, and he had defecated, and he had eventually died.

If Peggy were to die, I would know suffering. I often think to myself that my situation is bad, but I know that it is merely a stubbed toe compared to her death. The sun can revive or burn. Suffering can strengthen or destroy. There are no guarantees. There is no rationale. There is no benefic plan. There is only death after life, but not, so far as I can see, life after death. When the boulder reaches the bottom, it stays at the bottom.

28 comments:

Sonia ;) said...

Snow...
Some ppl have a passion for life no matter the pain and suffering. And some for others can not handle the deck thrown at them in life...and want all to end. I am glad you play the deck that is dealt to you......I figure I want to keep playing Rummie(only card game I know), tll all my cards are gone.

Smiles,
Sonia ;)

Sonia ;) said...

Speaking of choices...Who gives others the choice to choose for others to die or not..In suicide? Article makes ya think and was on the same wave length you were writing about.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/sussex/8077169.stm

smiling (trying)
Sonia ;)

khelsaoe said...

Strange that I was thinking of my own mortality today and you posted this. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you.

Renee said...

Riveting....

Love Renee xoxoxo

rhymeswithplague said...

Re Part 1: One thing humans have is choice. You can say "Yes" all your life and say "No" with your dying breath. Or you can say "No" all your life and say "Yes" with your dying breath. None of this has anything to do with one's physical situation.

I do not agree that our paths were determined from the foundation of the universe or that there is an unalterable law of cause and effect. You would make a mighty good Presbyterian.

Re Part 2 - I cannot lecture to anyone regarding pain, especially their own. But I do think if you focus on someone else's needs your own will somehow diminish.

I will return to my cave now.

Michelle said...

Oh Snow, I cannot really know what a life with constant physical pain feels like....but I know of pain and I also know this.....to be open to the joy each day, to allow yourself to find it in the little stuff, well, it makes it bearable, you know?

Love to you

I'm so sorry it hurts

xxx

Snowbrush said...

Sonia "Some ppl have a passion for life no matter the pain and suffering"

Yes, some of us thrive despite adversity while others crumple despite prosperity.

Sonia "Who gives others the choice to choose for others to die or not.."

I have many thoughts. (1) I read the article you referenced, and it reminded me of a book I recently read about the suicides at Beachy Head. Throwing myself off a cliff WOULD NOT appeal to me if I were suicidal.

(1) I give the right to Peggy. She knows that I would never want to be kept alive artificially without hope of ever leading a purposeful existence.

(3) We all take this decision upon ourselves. I sometimes wonder what the life to gallon ratio is, for example, of the gas that I buy. We kill people simply by the choices we make as consumers. We also pay taxes that our government spends on wars and other things that kill people. I seriously doubt that any of us can say that our hands are free of blood.

(4) Should society try to keep every last one of us alive no matter what the cost? Let's say that the life of one motorist could be saved each year if a 500-billion dollar road improvement is made. Should we make it? Or suppose, 50,000 lives can be saved if we lower the speed limit to 55. Should we do it? Our resources aren't limitless, and we also have the will of the public to consider as in the case of the speed limit.

Khelasoe "Strange that I was thinking of my own mortality today..."

Which brings to my morbid mind the question of how often you do this. I would say that I recall my mortality at least several times a day, and some days I can hardly think of anything else.

Thank you, Renee, for your kind words.

Rhymes "You would make a mighty good Presbyterian."

Heavens no. Calvinists believe that the monster they call God sentenced practically everyone who he ever created--or will create--to everlasting hell from the beginning of the universe. I have zero belief in such a being.

Rhymes " if you focus on someone else's needs your own will somehow diminish."

I completely agree. Self-absorption is not good. Self-reflection, yes; self-absorption, no.

Michelle "to be open to the joy each day, to allow yourself to find it in the little stuff..."

You put me in mind of Victor Frankel who wrote that it was the ability to narrow one's focus to small pleasures that enabled people to survive the camps.

Love to you all, and thank you for your comments.

Chrisy said...

Such interesting reading Snow...have thought about much that you touched upon...when I look the lives of a few relatives n friends that have suicided I think that for these people there wasn't much 'choice' involved...there were mental conditions that didn't respond to treatment eg an uncle with schitzophrenia on all the latest drugs and interventions truly believed that if he didn't kill himself he would kill others and he didn't want to do this...a cousin whose cherished daughter was murdered never got over the grief and after ten years and despite much medical and personal support just couldn't keep going anymore...Some of us have a natural optimism but I don't think that for most this is something that they've earned or attained...it's something that they were born with...

rhymeswithplague said...

Re Chrissy's comment: Plus, and this is just my opinion, we have an enemy who is whispering lies into our ears all the time hoping that we will belive them.

Renee said...

Good morning Snow:

The date is 2006, these are pages from a journal I did when I first found out I had cancer. Everything at the time was up in the air.

And no worries about not being around. I understand only too well. I get it.

I have the best intentions to be the best of friends with you and with others but then don't feel well and only do my own blog and then start to feel better again and visit.

So I understand and just wish I could be there for you. Being overwhelmed by being sick or in pain is a very hard place to be.

Love Renee xoxoxo

Putz said...

lot to think about...my aunt jeannie was merciffallily teased by her husband as was my sister, his neice...my sister had a therapist to help her, but my aunt committed suicide.....she made homemade scones, and baked bread and wanted to be a good mormon, but her husband had none of it and was a hard taskmaster...i think you can raise the threshold of suffering to unbelieveable high levels example....i am going to a dentist way next tuesday in north carolina, my son in law.....the pain i thought i could not stand even with strong painkillers and tehn all of a sudden i got used to the pain and now i can wait, and my son in law said it is all right to wait...the exquisited pain won't hurt me one bit and the pain became my friend

All Consuming said...

I think peoples views on suicide vary enormously, and whether they themselves have ever been in that state of mind can make a huge difference to that. I myself believe that everyone has the right to ultimately chose if they want to live or die. I am a huge advocate of Euthanasia, the idea of staying in a vegetative state because either the law gives me no choice, or my loved ones want to keep me here is terrifying. Of course I also think that if you are suicidal you should have access to any therapy that could ease the living hell you are existing in. Here is a link to an article I have been getting around to posting for some time. I agree with John, the author of the piece;

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/29/john-humphrys-assisted-suicide

Natalie said...

This is how I am interpreting:

"Redemption is freedom from appearances. Redemption is to know reality at its worst, yet to still love reality."
This is the first step.From this position, the next position is an agreement to participate in life, in whatever way you are ABLE.

From this point, it is realising, and perhaps counting, the reason/ reasons why you have chosen to stay.
From this point, is where you count blessings (once you really mean it)
Count your blessings, name them one by one.Live for those.
Congratulate yourself for surviving, love yourself for surviving, and soon you will WANT to not only survive, but to LIVE.

It is called survival instinct, it is inherent.

Love to you.xx♥

southeastcountrywife said...

no life after death? i think i'd want to die today if i didn't think there was any more point to living than this life! and i think i might have done the same when my husband died as when that guy's wife died. wow, i'm so glad i don't believe that--makes me feel depressed just thinkg about it!!!! :P

Snowbrush said...

Chrisy, as you probably know, not all cultures have opposed suicide. In fact, some have considered it honorable in certain circumstances. My state, Oregon, has had an assisted suicide law for years, and Washington State recently followed. Because it is legal and even supported here--in cases of terminal illness, at least--some of the stigma is gone.

Rhymes "...we have an enemy who is whispering lies into our ears..."

A few enemies, I should think, although I assume you meant Satan.

Putz, like Chrisy, you can think of suicidal people who you had a great deal of sympathy for and understanding of. I can too, but I know others who I wish had hung around, because I can't help but think that, had they gotten through a particular crisis, they might have enjoyed long lives. Teenagers who kill themselves often fit into this category.

All Con, It is a touching article and one with which I fully agree. Maybe you read my response to Chrisy in which I mentioned that my own U.S. state of Oregon was the first to have an assisted suicide law. The Federal government under the two Bush's did everything it could to either overturn the law or effectively block it, for example, prosecuting doctors under Federal drug laws. They appear to have given up.

Natalie: "the next position is an agreement to participate in life,"

Good thought, Natalie.

I agree that our survival instinct is inherent. We can override it, but it still acts as a bit of a safety stop to keep us from leaving life too readily.

Country Wife: "I think i'd want to die today if i didn't think there was any more point to living than this life!"

I understand your feelings entirely, and I often lean in the same direction, but I don't think it is a conclusion that necessarily follows the belief that this life is out only life. I think it has more to do with how a person was raised, and you and I were raised with the Bible's words ever in our ears, "Of all men, we are the most miserable if we have hope for this life only."

I'm reading a book about religious attitudes in Scandinavia. That is almost certainly the least religious place in the world, yet, by all reports, the people there do not suffer from the absence of the comfort offered by religion. Again, I think it is only people like you and I who do, but even in my case (you are firm on your own path), the loss of a belief in eternal life and purpose can be over ridden, to an extent at least, by embracing an earthly purpose.

Another factor, of course, is individual disposition. I have known perpetually cheerful atheists who could weather any storm, and I have known perpetually despondent Christians who longed for eternal life even as they loathed the life they had on earth.

Snowbrush said...

I had some added thoughts after my response to SECW's response.

First, I felt a great sadness that the Christian religion, at least, teaches that the present moment, indeed the present life, is valueless aside from the promise of a new and improved life to follow. On a personal note, I felt sad for myself that such a belief characterized my childhood.

Second, despite the comfort that faith can bring, a great many of us couldn't believe even if we wanted to. I began losing my faith around age eleven, and it was mostly downhill from there despite my best efforts and most fervent prayers. Now, I don't know how anyone can believe. I know that a great many intelligent people do, but I interpret their belief as coming from an emotional need rather than from a rational evaluation of the evidence, because there is no evidence, at least none of which I am aware, that the Christian religion is true, at least not literally. For example, when Jesus died, the sky turned dark in the middle of the day, the earth shook, and the buried dead left the cemeteries and walked amid the living. Why aren't these things mentioned other than in the Bible? In a country (Rome) that was meticulous in its record keeping, the trial of Jesus wasn't even mentioned.

Likewise, when 600,000 Jewish men plus their wives and children left Egypt after ten catastrophic plagues and the drowning of pharaoh's army, why didn't anyone in Egypt think it worth making note of these calamities, and why is there no mention of the Jews even being held as slaves in Egypt? I am utterly consternated by faith that persists in the face of such problems. I know it does, and I feel respect and affection for a lot of those who are people of faith, but I can no more understand this aspect of their lives than if they believed in the Easter bunny.

southeastcountrywife said...

hey, don't forget that my comments on the value of this life were while walking through hell! that's not my opinion of everyday life normally.

don't think that i hung onto the rosyness of faith all throughout last year. i absolutely did not--go back and read my archives--i was yelling and kicking and screaming the whole way. there were people who tried to tell me that i should just be trusting in God and not questioning why my 31 y.o. husband was killed after only 10 weeks of marriage. i yelled at them too. :) what did they know of my life and the struggles that had come before? this wasn't the first blow!

now i think that, if faith is real, it will stand up under the scrutiny. however, i am very much still continuing to work through things...i have no pat answers and i have thousands of questions. i just know that i unquestionably...STILL...believe in the reality of God. and i blog so that others feel free to ask the same questions without feeling like they're the only ones.

i wish i had the time and energy to look into the validity questions you raised above. from what i've read, the Bible always stands up to scrutiny. i've heard of people who antagonistically set out to prove it wrong--and converted. that kind of digging is just not my thing, although i'd be interested in the results!

sometimes i look at questions this way: "if i'm wrong, does it matter?" if i'm wrong about God and the Bible and it's only a fairytale, what does it matter? i'll die and it will be over and everybody believes in something while they're here. but if you're wrong and Jesus Christ really is the only way, you have everything to lose for rest of eternity. it wasn't the deciding factor for me, but i'd rather not gamble on those odds. :)

nollyposh said...

But what if, Snowbrush, it wasn't about life or death, but about the hills and how we choose to climb or not climb them... What if suffering is not so much a condition but a symptom and what if at the end of all this, there is something else?
i see you Snowbrush as a soul who is not afraid to reach into his deepest self, i think you are a climber X:-)

rhymeswithplague said...

Because [assisted suicide] is legal and even supported here, some of the stigma is gone.

Same thing, I suppose, with gambling in Nevada? Or prostitution?

"When in Rome" and all that, but it is my considered opinion that it is not a question of legality but of morality. What's immoral at home ought to be immoral still when you're on vacation. If it's just a law that keeps a person from doing something, perhaps that person has very little character to begin with.

The trouble is that so many people do not think much is immoral any more. It's been more of a shift in cultural attitudes, not in intrinsic rightness and wrongness.

Abortion, in my opinion, is a good example...just because it's legal doesn't make it right.

I'm not trying to pontificate here, just throw a different point of view into the mix.

Of course there is no "proof" or material evidence that Christianity or any other religion is true. That's why faith is required. And faith is not leaving your brain at the door, faith is accepting something precisely because it cannot be verified. Strange approach, I know, but it can't be helped. According to that book you don't like, we are body, soul (mind), and spirit. The benefits of faith, I think, are not for the mind, but for the spirit.

The Christian religion does not teach that this present life is valueless. In this life we can do two things of value: love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbor in the same way we love our ourselves. How we treat others in the present moment has a great deal to do with our eternal destiny. "If a man say, 'I love God' and hates his brother, he is a liar." Orthodoxy (believing right things) is less important than orthopraxy (doing right things).

I will get off my soapbox now.

You have a great blog. A little skewed, perhaps, but great nonetheless! (And when I point a finger at you, I have three pointing back at myself....)

Snowbrush said...

SECW "If i'm wrong about God and the Bible and it's only a fairytale, what does it matter? ...but if you're wrong and Jesus Christ really is the only way, you have everything to lose for rest of eternity."

You restate what is known as "Pascal's Wager" (something I learned about long ago in a theology class). Imagine though that I throw in with Jesus instead of Mohammed, and I am wrong; or I become a Catholic instead of a Jehovah's Witness, and I am wrong. The question becomes, why choose Christ instead of some other savior?

In this regard, what I would pose to you and to Rhymes about fideism is the lack of evidence suggesting that one "faith" is better than another faith. Today, it is popular with many to say that God if behind all faiths, so it doesn't much matter which one we choose, but this is not a Biblical position. Another criticism that i have of faith is that I fail to see why God would make it the basis for salvation. On a personal note, it is said in the Bible that faith is a gift from God that is ours for the asking. I asked many times, and I never received.

NollyPosh "what if at the end of all this, there is something else?"

On this, Nolly, you and SECW and Rhymes are in agreement.

Me "Because [assisted suicide] is legal and even supported here, some of the stigma is gone."

Rhymes's response "Same thing, I suppose, with gambling in Nevada? Or prostitution?"

Methinks thou lookest with a jaundiced eye, my friend. I would instead compare it with integration in the South or with equal employment opportunities for women; both of which were, for many, repugnant ideas that took some getting used to, but that few now seriously oppose.

Rhyme's "many people do not think much is immoral any more. It's been more of a shift in cultural attitudes, not in intrinsic rightness and wrongness."

Which raises questions pertaining to what is intrinsically true (true everyplace and everywhere) and what is simply cultural. You have considerable certainty about this due to your acceptance of a divine authority, yet many of those who oppose you also believe they are acting on divine authority. This means that you and they are deadlocked because neither of you can consider a given behavior, such as abortion, as solely a human issue. It is also why, I believe, those who oppose abortion across the board, and those who oppose euthanasia across the board are invariably, in my experience acting, not on what is good for humanity, but on what they think God wants.

Rhymes "Of course there is no "proof" or material evidence that Christianity or any other religion is true. That's why faith is required."

Please consider my response to SECW. For my part, I should think that God would be more interested in how well we treat one another than in how well we succeed in believing that which would appear to be highly improbable if not downright impossible.

Thank you for your kind words. I very much value hearing from those who disagree with me.

VioletMind said...

"Maybe I am insufferably pollyannish; I suspect I am. "

Me too! It's so coincidental that I read this on a post of yours when I was preparing to unleash a post on that very topic, myself. The irony; the dark humor that humanity [sometimes] does actually look forward to brighter days despite a recurring darkness frightens me!

Not that that's not a good thing,
but the irrationality of it all; it scares the
crap out of me. Like, I'm in a situation RIGHT NOW
where I'm enduring a significant amount of suffering[this has been going on for a whole year now] and It seems like nothing's gonna change; at least for a WHILE. Yet, i still am hopeful that, somehow, someway, something will change. BLINDLY! And it's what keeps me going most days;
the irrational HOPE that it will get better.

This scares me so much because, to me, it means,
if humans can be THIS irrational, then- then, how
rational are we REALLY?

eek!

Matawheeze said...

Such interesting conversation in the comments. I guess faith in an external god is something I lack but am open to if it comes. I try not to make moral decisions for everyone else but find myself stuck with opinions about right and wrong. I try to live by those and am willing to share/discuss when asked. I fear folks who KNOW the TRUTH. Things like suicide and abortion are difficult issues and truth slides around. I aspire to show love and compassion to all beliefs and I fall short. (laugh) Sometimes it sucks to be human!

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, your penultimate paragraph says virtually the same thing as my antepenultimate one.

I've enjoyed this exchange.

Chrisy said...

I've come back for another visit Snow...to read all the comments...it's so interesting to read what people think...so pleased that you raised this topic so that we could all mull over it...

Pease Porridge said...

Love the stories about the dogs.

Very interesting post about choosing life or death. I am faced with the scary challenge of keeping my son away from any food containing milk. Something as simple as cows milk is so poisonous to him that his throat would close up in an instant leading to what I think is the most horrible death of anaphylaxis. I try to tell myself that he needs to have a normal life and go to school next year because a car could hit him just the same. I often wonder how someone could torture and kill a perfectly healthy child and here I am struggling to keep my child alive. Don't get me wrong, he is a perfectly healthy child as long as he stays away from milk, eggs and nuts. I know other children have worse situations and I am happy with my cards. I will keep them. I do often think about what you just wrote though. How some lives almost seem thrown away and others are taken. Jennifer

julie mitchell said...

"I will be thinking about the hours I lie awake hurting, and there will come to me a certain nostalgia, an almost glad anticipation of the coming night."....To me this is the most interesting statement of your post...Is your pain a test...? Is it your redemption? Is it a paying of karmic debt? Do you feel it's making you a better or stronger human?
I always tell my friends (mostly crones) that our wisdom gained through hardships and pain makes us wiser and more compassionate people....and isn't that the reason for life? I don't know. I tend to believe that we choose the situations we are born into...in order to pay our karmic debt. But then it's hard for me to understand what an orphan in Africa, or a child prostitute in India could have done in a past life that would make necessary for them to experience such hell here on earth?

JOE TODD said...

A little late getting here. Great post as usual. I had a dream the other night about my dog sam (now dead for more than 30 years) In the dream he bit the neighbor. In real life he never hurt anyone. He was a best friend. Thought I'd comment on previous post also

Snowbrush said...

Violet "the dark humor that humanity [sometimes] does actually look forward to brighter days despite a recurring darkness frightens me!"

My valued friend, I find comfort in almost anything that enables us to survive where we would have otherwise perished. I would guess that evolution has instilled a certain native optimism in us simply by virtue of the fact that the more pessimistic a person is, the more likely he or she is to succumb to illness or suicide.

Violet "the irrational HOPE that it will get better."

If I may be so bold, things that appear hopeless often do get better because time is a great healer, and unseen avenues often do open. Also, even if the situation itself doesn't improve, your response to it might. Truly, it is not our circumstances that are the problem, but how we think about our circumstances.

Matawheeze " I try not to make moral decisions for everyone else"

I assume you are referring to an intolerant judgmentalness. In another way though, I think it important that we hold others to reasonable standards of morality despite the fact that what is reasonable is often subjective. The forgoing of making moral judgments is a moral judgment in itself because it implies a belief that it is immoral to make moral judgments. We can't stand aside from life and say that one person's opinion is just as good as another's.

Rhymes "our penultimate paragraph says virtually the same thing as my antepenultimate one."

Ah, but did you read my mesopostantepenultimate paragraph? Just kidding you there. I enjoyed our discourse too.

Chrisy, thank you for coming back.

Pease, I am very sorry to hear of your son's allergies. I should think it terrifying to live everyday of your life with the knowledge that just one innocent looking (to most people) slip-up on the part of a child could result in his death. I guess you can at least be glad he doesn't have some degenerative disease, but that means having to go to the extreme to find a silver-lining.

Julie "it's hard for me to understand what an orphan in Africa, or a child prostitute in India could have done in a past life that would make necessary for them to experience such hell here on earth?"

Me too! It's a bit like when people say that we bring cancer upon ourselves through negative thinking. What a coincidence that people who live in certain areas, have certain occupations, and eat certain diets, etc. are more prone to thinking negatively. But then people who say these things appear to be looking more for an assurance that they're not going to be the next to fall than for evidence to prove a theory. This is how the belief in reincarnation strikes me. Did you know, BTW, the reincarnation is found in the gnostic gospels?

Joe "A little late getting here."

Well, now that you're retired, I guess there's no reason that you HAVE to be an early bird. I wonder if your dog, Sam, doesn't represent you in the dream. Just something to think about.