Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Screen Goes Dark

As our days become increasingly full and our responsibilities grow -- both to ourselves and to others -- we find, with greater frequency, that some things are more important than others, and those things which we once deemed of the highest importance become less so. As we get older -- whether it's attending junior high school or college or a first job or a new job or the birth of a child or the death of a grandparent or a parent -- we are prone to realize things aren't in black and white but in gray, and increasingly things that are important are not nearly as easily-cateogirzed as they once were.

The only absolutes in our daily existence which -- unfortunately -- will never change are the man-made constructs and the stark reality of life and death.

I came across a story on of a 25-year old woman, Eva Markvoort, who was afflicted with cystic fibrosis. It touched me on several levels; first, because the article was posthumous. Second, it was about how terminally-ill people are using the internet to reach out to others -- both people with the same affliction(s) and those who might benefit from the knowledge the terminal patient may impart; and, finally, I had a friend who lost her battle with cystic fibrosis at a young age (typical for CF victims).

On a purely clinical level, it's interesting observing this trend within the setting of our ever-evolving existence of increased virtual social interaction and our ever-increasing isolation from non-virtual contact. Put another way, it's interesting that our lives are not only becoming less and less about actual physical
interaction but increasingly so are our deaths. We can access a literally infinite number of humans without leaving our desk chairs; and we no longer have to visit a cancer ward to see terminally ill children, adults and geriatrics from any and all walks of life.

I'm not mourning or lamenting this fact; I'm not sure if this is a good thing, a bad thing, or even how I should feel about this aspect of Eva Markvoort's story as an example of this phenomenon.

I do think it's a good thing -- within a limited scope -- that people can search online for others' experiences facing terminal illness. As a child, hearing that someone died of a heart attack or cancer or something medical (ie not via a car accident or pulling a bank heist) inspires fear of these things. However, as we get older and we learn more -- about these various medical calamities -- they become less frightening or more things with which we can either cope or at least face. In some cases, we can even defeat them.

But facing these foes head-on -- whether with or without fear -- is probably more necessary than anything else, aside from medical care and self-responsibility.

I'm not sure, again, how this newly-minted type of quasi-interaction will affect us in the future; is there really any difference between handwritten journals chronicling the end of one's life and those composed via keyboard? Whether these memoirs are on paper or on a backlit screen? And whether these journals are kept along with the other miscellaneous crap one accumulates over the course of a life and a death, in a box or a container in someone's attic, or somewhere in a blog database, searchable with keywords like metastic tumor, malignant and/or inoperable?

Regardless of my opinion on this -- if, quite frankly, I had one -- I think that part of the key to life is one's death. Dignity, above all other things, should be maintained for anyone who, essentially, sees their time on this Earth dwindling. It should be noted that while we all -- consciously and otherwise -- know not only that today could be our last day on Earth, and each day we live brings us one day closer to death. However, those whose ends are near and in close proximity can and should do whatever they feel brings them the appropriate closure. I am an optimist and while I hope I never have to contemplate these concepts for myself personally, reviewing this story forced me to do so on a personal level, which is relatively uncomfortable. It's sort of like visiting an organization that sells cemetery plots and headstones; these are not experiences we enjoy but those we must, at some point in our lives, do.

Finally, back to Eva Markvoort's story and her contribution: Whether or not we improve our ability for curing cystic fibrosis or another terminal illness is not the only factor here. Her story, on some level, is our story; absorbing her personal experience makes her life that much more important, and especially for those of us who didn't know her personally, it allows her voice to remain alive and to help those of us who need that help, whether it's for personal illness or for past experience.

Put another way, I can't bring myself to delete the names from my contact list of those people who have passed away. There are not many of them, I'm pleased to admit, but every time I come across their names -- in the list, or in archived email -- it reminds me of them and, even for a second or two, forces me to pause reflect about my memories of them and their experiences.

And, most importantly, allows me to remember them as people and not just names and pixels on a backlit screen on a soon-to-be relocated page.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Day To Remember - 4/11/10

The irony of the plane crash that claimed the lives of over 100 people, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski and several other high-ranking Polish officials, is that it happened so close to this particular day, which in Hebrew is known as Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Directly or otherwise, every Jewish person on the planet lost someone during the Holocaust. It's particularly unavoidable knowing that 6,000,000 Jews -- as well as millions of non-Jews -- were exterminated due one individual's distrust, paranoia and twisted, grotesque vision of the world. And yet I am sure there are Jews out there -- perhaps even reading this -- whose attitude regarding this day equates to "What's the difference?"

I'm not answering the Four Questions in this space or anywhere else; but given the political situation the world is in these days -- an administration in Washington, DC, that seems headed towards forsaking -- or at least altering -- the relationship this nation has continually held with the state of Israel; the nuclear ambitions of rogue nation-states like Iran and North Korea; the nuclear -- and mass-scale -- ambitions of radical Islam, evidenced by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas; and the general apathy exhibited by many people in this nation, both Jewish and non-Jewish -- is particular disconcerting.

The other night I had a discussion with friends about whether interrogation torture -- as employed by the CIA -- should have a place in our legit tactics. We debated -- for some time -- whether torture should be practiced or forbidden (waterboarding, psychological torture, etc.). There were six in our group and I believe I was the only one who supported the use of torture tactics in policy if the end result was the saving of lives (American or otherwise). The rest of the group was morally repulsed by the notion that torture ever had a place in our obtaining of intelligence and felt these tactics should be banned.

The reason why I bring this up -- although it didn't occur to me at the time -- was that in this modern era of gray (as opposed to black and white), how can we ensure that another Holocaust, of people or of an entire nation, not repeat itself? How can we not compare Hitler and Osama bin Laden? Despite the fact their goals are, largely, the same, what's the difference if one uses concentration camps and another hopes to somehow obtain a nuclear weapon and kill millions in one huge blast rather than over a ten-year period? Vis-a-vis torture, if we have a method which -- as repulsive as it is -- can save lives, shouldn't we explore and endeavor to use those methods which can help us accomplish this task?

Or should we aspire to a noble, proper cause, much akin to English policemen ("bobbies") walking around the streets of London unarmed?

Inasmuch as the world today is a far more disturbing place than it was prior to 1939, it seems to me that while I agree that torture is a repulsive tactic, I think we must meet the challenges we face to ensure another Holocaust -- of Jews, or anyone else -- never occurs. Prior to 1939, the US distaste for war precluded us from involvement in World War II, deeming it repulsive -- much like many today feel about torture -- yet had the US gotten involved before 1939 (without the prodding from Japan but of our own volition and on our own terms) perhaps the death of 6,000,000 would be far less, if not happened at all.

My point is not to accuse or admonish or condescend; however, whether it's war, torture or a medical tactic -- such as chemotherapy -- once we acknowledge there is a repulsive threat, we need to be willing -- and act -- to repel said repulsive threat, and be willing to do so with whatever means necessary, even if some of same are almost as -- if not moreso -- morally repugnant as the threat we face.

Never again.