I wanted to write to you all sooner, but none of my ideas quite went where I wanted them to go. This might not be any better, but we’ll see how it goes. Before I start though, I want to thank each and every one of you for all of your support after my last post. That week was one of the toughest I think both Daniel and I have ever had and it would have been even harder without the amazing circle of friends and family we have around us. Now, onto this post, there has been so much on my mind in the last month, that I think I’ll start with a list and maybe, just maybe, we can make some sense everything together.
1. Brittany Maynard and Kara Tippetts
Over the last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about death and dying. It’s kind of funny, I remember reading Chicken Soup for the Soul with my Dad when I was younger and I loved the ‘Death and Dying’ section. He hated it and complained, so naturally, I made him read me more depressing stories. I don’t remember too many of those stories now, but two stories have recently come to my attention and they both make my heart ache. Brittany Maynard and Kara Tippetts are both dying from cancer. As of November 1st, Brittany Maynard chose to end her life in dignity than die slowly and painfully. Kara Tippetts wrote a beautiful letter in response to Brittany’s choice from a perspective on suffering that you rarely hear. I cannot say anything against either of these women or their opinions, but that they are both far braver than me. They have both been on my mind a lot, along with their two opposing views on death and dying. I think two questions that their journeys have highlighted for me are first, can there be dignity in suffering and secondly, does anyone really have control over their death and dying? I’m not going so far as to say that we don’t have control over anything and I’m not necessarily speaking against assisted suicide, I’m just looking back at my personal experience with chronic illness.
2. The Legend of Korra
I don’t know if any of you have watched or even heard of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, but you should give it a try. Yes, it’s a kid’s show, and yes, it’s a cartoon, but it’s one of the best things on tv right now and pretty close to my favourite show of all time. Each season builds on the last and deals with mature topics with such delicacy and understanding. This season, they have dealt with an issue that is rarely shown on television and hardly ever handled properly: PTSD. The fourth season took place three years after the third in the story timeline, and showed Korra grappling with what has happened to her. Three years later and she is still broken, struggling to return to her emotional and physical peak, haunted by an image of herself at her worst. The episode “Korra Alone” focused solely on her painful journey over the last three years and it doesn’t look like there will be a quick fix for Korra. Her story and her struggle have struck a cord with me and I feel her pain as if it were my own. Everything she tries only seems to give her a false hope that she can return to ‘normal’. Again, no one can help her truly regain control over her mental illness and it may be that she has to learn to live with a new ‘normal’.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about two authors over the last few weeks. In my second year of university, I wrote a paper comparing Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to Coetzee’s Disgrace. I’ve decided to revisit that paper and have been doing some research in my spare time, specifically related to Coetzee’s novels. J. M. Coetzee, a South African writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, writes poignantly about the difficulty of moving past the blot on South African history that was apartheid. Most critics agree that in his literature, Coetzee struggles to find an appropriate way to move forward. In Disgrace, Coetzee follows David Lurie as he struggles with his own crimes and those perpetrated against his daughter, Lucy. These are such big issues and definitely, one thought is how can an individual be expected to to make amends for such systematic pain? How do we move past retributive justice?
In his review of Disgrace, Salman Rushdie claims that the weakness of the novel is that it does not “shine a light upon darkness, but merely becomes a part of the darkness it describes” (Rushdie, 2000). However, bringing in Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment, there might be a different way to look at the ending. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov spends most of the novel struggling with himself about how to find redemption for the murders he committed. Even at the end of the novel, after he’s confessed and in a Siberian prison, he still isn’t at peace with himself. At the very end, something finally changes: time stands still and he imagines he is in the same time period as Abraham. It is here that Raskolnikov’s redemption becomes possible, where time and space is fluid and history has no bearing. In connection to Disgrace, Lurie finds some semblance of peace by euthanizing sick dogs and imagining their pain and their souls in a way he was not able to earlier in the novel. There is still no clear redemption for anyone by the end of Disgrace, but it almost points to something, something outside of South Africa and history that can bring a more lasting healing to a wounded nation.
So, looking back at all that, I’m sorry I don’t think about happier things! It still seems like a bit of a muddle, but I think I’ll try to bring it together. What all these have in common, at least for me, is that the problems in each situation are bigger than an individual person, or even a nation of people. Our solutions, our human attempts to control disease, mental health and racism all ultimately fail and we are left facing a vast, gaping chasm of nothingness. But lately, all that nothingness has started to look like something. Death is outside of our sense of time, space, history and understanding and it’s in that very fact that I find hope. While we only get glimpses of something greater throughout our lifetime, Death is a gateway to something completely new and bigger than anything here: “After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure”.
As always, thank you for journeying with me,