Friday, May 18, 2007

Life, Death, and the Meaning of it All

I’ve been having an instructive dialogue with "Sean" on the web. We both met on the blog of a young student/educator working in Mussoorie, India. Sean is earnest about keeping the food chain "clean" and I flippantly wrote all life (carbon systems) makes use of (ingests) other carbon entities. He was interested in preventing the death of millions of children from dysentery.Think he may be a young medic in the making. I was wondering whether uncontrolled population growth would overwhelm resources and that as an older person I wasn’t thrilled about how millions of older folks spent their last days because modern medicine could keep them alive. Believe that is the way it became posited.

So, rather than fill up another’s blog space with a theme that is uninteresting to most..let me continue here where it can be accessed if there is interest in the subject.

My general thesis was: Let all life processes proceed naturally and LIFE will succeed as it has since the beginning of creation. (There appears to be built in checks and balances..can’t prove it but sort of believe it). When humans start to improve the process what is gained at one end is lost at the other. Try as we may, there appears to be no net gain. That’s the way I understand it.

Now I’ll probably negate it all with the following narrative.

When I was about three years old, in India, I contracted a rare but usually fatal dysentery. By my logic I should have been allowed to perish and thereby eliminate another user of earth’s resources. A different physician changed the medication and here I am to tell about it. As a very young child I was exposed to the funeral processions of many who died of cholera and small pox epidemics. Inoculation helped me survive. Some of them survived because of their genetic inheritance. They were the ones who actually strengthened the gene pool.

On returning to India during my teens, I almost fell down the mountain because I made an unwise routing decision to take a short cut up a ravine. During the same term some coolies might have dropped me as we all transited across a Mussoorie landslide. Again, I remained in the realm of the living with my coolies. The Source seemed to have a use for me. During my time there, I wonder how many other potentials to exit life were in the shadows unbeknownst to me, from either people, disease or foolish accident.

Upon our return in America there was still polio that could either destroy or render life useless. That was soon remedied by a vaccine saving millions of lives. The automobile was pretty good at eliminating thousands and our abuse of the atmosphere in the name of progress removed people who were susceptible to smog and soot particulates. We have made enormous strides in this area.

My father died at 51 when I was 19. Perhaps that made me reflect more about where death belongs in the scheme of things. Even after his demise, into my late 40's, death was thought about seriously only when I purchased life insurance! It was way off in the future. My body worked fine even with the onset of slight blood pressure problems again ameliorated by medication. Death was way off in the future. At 50 I instinctively understood that my life was perhaps half or more over. At 60 I could walk a considerable distance and even jog some. Life was full though a career in music education was coming to an end.

And then like someone sticking your head down the commode just for meanness, my wife and I both began to hurt from the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Rather suddenly, we both were confronted with the debilitating effects of the aging process. One began to seriously contemplate trying to live in a wheel chair, maybe in a nursing home, with the slight wealth we had accumulated suddenly vanishing. What then? What then indeed?

Through operations, physical therapy and our faith in God, things have turned around a little for the better. But, will we be 60 again? No. Will it just get worse, or something else break down, of course.. though I don’t want to think about it. I’m more afraid of dying piecemeal than I am from a quick coronary. I hope for a good death. From my birth millions of my body cells have been dying to continue life for the me. Over a long period, time does its thing and the important cells are unable to regenerate or go whacky into cancer cells and fight the healthy ones. At some point the system is overwhelmed and I will be no more here. My carbon atoms may be reintegrated into another living system at some point, my thoughts that are written down will be passed on as long they are read, part of my DNA dances on in the bodies of my children and grand children, and that mystery of mysteries we call the soul will return to its Source.

So, my body is a parable and analogous to the living skin of the earth. It is all a vast system that was designed to work a certain way. Disease, wars, accidents, natural catastrophes all serve to keep the earth’s living layer properly pruned and vigorous just as similar events happen within my own body. Even though I’m not a Darwinist, there appears to be some principle at work of the survival of the fittest. Loren Eiseley argued quite convincingly that it was often the weak that made the next advance, contravening that argument. This is the powerful incentive for intervening on behalf of the under dog, the halt and the lame.

A young person believes passionately that LIFE can be improved and advances of certain sorts are made. After one has lived more than a half century certain truths come into focus, as it were, that aren’t apparent to the younger person because of their distance in time and experience. Human life is infinitely valuable and we try to sustain it the best we know. Is there something that we can learn from Mother nature that maybe instructs us not to be too intrusive? There is much to ponder. I won’t be here to hear "Sean" after he’s lived 70 years, begin to agree with me. But, part of the magic of thought is that it can project us into the future and we can vicariously experience another’s life without actually living it. The blogosphere is a new way for messages to surface from the interior. How very interesting! Cheers!