Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
This afternoon we watched a rerun of a retrospective — Oprah Winfrey's Where Are They Now? Oprah interviewed the widowed husband of a young woman who decided to move to Oregon so she could take advantage of the assisted dying legislation there. She was living with inoperable brain tumors.
This evening we watched a documentary on CBC about a young man with cystic fibrosis. He and his friends run a weekly podcast at of Halifax where they discuss the granular minutia of living in this world with a disability.
I'm not certain but it seems to me that Oprah's young woman married her husband before she had the diagnosis. The cancer and the diagnosis of cancer (which are different, I've been there with my wife) ripped through their lives. The young woman's husband spoke with some passion but also with tears about how important it was for her to live the life she had left by filling it up with positive experiences. He took great pride in the fact that she had made a decision to control her life and she had followed that decision through to its logical destination.
In contrast our young Canadian in Halifax married his wife when both knew he was living with a prognosis of at best two or three years. It's a subtle distinction — but the documentary presents him as filling his life not with positive experiences but with meaningful ones. For him connection to important other people and doing good work — giving — was what was important.
The contrasts are overly simplified. I'm certain that our young Canadian fills his life with positive experiences to and does what he can to limit the negative ones. And I am also certain that our young Californian ex-pats in Oregon on had meaningful experiences and gave and built connections. These two people are after all human beings and human beings don't get out of this life without connecting without making meaning without caring.
The difference is then are more in their rhetoric than in the living. It's how we speak about what we are trying to do with the time we have. And the person who chose to die, and the husband seeking to honour that memory, and Oprah Winfrey herself, present to the hero's him of her life in terms of autonomy and in terms of "good experiences". Our friend in Halifax in contrast chooses activities that make enduring the pain worthwhile — and they involve giving to others and shared moments.