A friend of mine died a couple of weeks ago. She hadn’t been sick or anything, but her death didn’t come as a shock—at least not to me—she was 98-years-old. She didn’t merely suffer a heart attack; while on a ventilator in cardiac intensive care, she suffered the added bodily insult of a massive stroke.
Martha—that was her name—was a pistol. No one ever knew what she was going to say or how she’d say it. Nor did she lose a lot of sleep over hurting anyone’s feelings.
Her fundamental philosophy was simple. The young don’t understand half of what THEY’RE talking about while the very old don’t CARE one way or the other and simply say whatever is on their minds.
To Martha, this was Darwinism in action and she often told me that she gave up on personal introspection when she turned seventy-five! At 98-years of age, she considered it her inalienable RIGHT to tell people to “take a hike” if they didn’t like what she said.
As harsh as I’m making her sound, she was quite the cuddly pussycat once people got to know her.
She didn’t sit around drooling all day, either. She read two newspapers every day of her life, including the daily edition of the New York Times. She watched the network news each day.
She was politically aware and didn’t care much for President Obama. “He’s too wishy-washy. If Obama had Truman’s balls, the country would be better off,” she’d often say.
Martha wasn’t much of a “God” person, either. But, she wasn’t a shrill about it. She didn’t accuse believers of being sissies in denial of death’s finality. On the other hand, those who tried to shove THEIR beliefs down HER throat experienced HER wrath in short order.
She loved Wawa Original Cappuccino… in the 24-OZ cup. And, every day for the past two and half years, I’d buy her two cups: one about mid-morning, the other in the early evening and we’d shoot the breeze for a bit as she drank it. I’m going to miss doing that. But, I’m going to miss Martha a lot more.
And, concerning death, our tribal medicine man has delivered the news that cancer has introduced itself to my younger brother. It’s not the first this devastating disease has made its debut in my familial inner circle, either.
But, this time the news is particularly devastating for his wife and grown children. If the chemo works as planned, he has about 8-months, otherwise several months less time.
The distressing thing about cancer is that people don’t have to have it themselves to feel its long-term dread and utter desolation. Millions who have had someone they care about diagnosed with it will attest to this.
Whenever this happens, IMMEDIATELY our concern graduates from clinical to personal; and, suddenly, we feel an overwhelming stake in a “cure.”
One of the things that begets pessimism and promotes fatalism is our human propensity to paraphrase unawareness into our prognostications. We do it all the time, not merely about medical matters, but about myriad other things that affect our lives.
“Everything that can be invented has already been invented.” Mr. Charles Duel, Commissioner of the United States Patent Office said this in 1899. Here are some other gems.
“That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?” … President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, speaking about the telephone.
“There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom,” … Robert Milken, Nobel Prize winner in physics, said this in 1923.
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,” … Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, said this in 1895.
“Who the hell wants to watch movies with sound?” Harry Warner, president of Warner Brothers Studio said this in 1918.
I could quote page after page of such nonsense. The point is that folks did not take it as nonsense back then. These were well-respected, sincerely driven people. But then, as now, people failed to account for fact that what we foresee is usually based on what we know and accept at the time.
Of course, neither must we ever lose sight of the fact that multitudes of socially anointed, as well as self-designated, “experts”—past, present, AND future—let huge egos greatly enhance the sounds of their own voices. Some things never change.
Fifty-years ago a friend of mine died from an inoperable brain aneurism. She was only 20-years-old. Back then, whenever tribal medicine men discovered this sort of thing, they told their patients to go home, not to do anything exerting, and await the inevitable rupture, which, if they were lucky, would end their lives instantly.
Today, although it’s a very dangerous surgical procedure, surgeons routinely repair such aneurisms.
In fact, today, medical science routinely CURES many diseases—AND repairs myriad other things—that society knew as absolute automatic death sentences years ago.
Medical science will find a cure for cancer. It will find a cure for many other things, too. But, a few things have to happen first.
One, we have to stop assuming that current medical reality is absolute. It might be for some things; but history has shown that it has been relative most of the time.
Second, eventually we have to accept the fact that that much of our religious dogma concerning the notion that ONLY God gives life and therefore ONLY God can take it, ignores the fact that resuscitating organs is vastly different from resuscitating viable human beings.
It has always struck me as logically inconsistent that this same God—if such a being exists—concurrently endowed humans with the scientific curiosity and the necessary intellectual capacity for improving our lives, would then condemn us for doing so.
Third, and perhaps even more important, we have to find a way to make sure that the lives our medical scientific discoveries will be able to prolong will have a world in which ANYONE would WANT to live in the first place.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.