January 28, 2015

Seneca on the Shortness of Life

Life without any chance of death is hardly worth living
Health breakthroughs seem like great news, but we all need mortality as motivation

From this week's Brainpickings'  15 worthy resolutions for 2015 from some of history's greatest minds comes these quotes from Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. Seneca writes:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it... Life is long if you know how to use it.

To those who so squander their time, he offers an unambiguous admonition:

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply – though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire... How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

The cure he prescribes is rather simple, yet far from easy to enact:

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 PM | Permalink

June 18, 2014

The Mercy of Sickness before Death

The Mercy of Sickness before Death by D.G. Myers

Just so you understand: I am dying. I am in the end stage of metastatic prostate cancer, and after six-and-a-half years of close association with the disease, I have another six months to two years to live. That probably sounds exhibitionistic, but I don’t mean it to. Nor am I fish­ing for pity. Truth is, I’d sooner have your laughter.

Man says, “I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but I am going to fight it with everything I’ve got.” “My money’s on the cancer,” his friend says. Find me that friend.
What cancer patients need more than anything is to take responsibility for their disease. From their doctors, from their family and friends, and especially from themselves, they need simple honesty about their condition, their treatment options, their chances.
A cure may not be possible, but even in the face of death, moral and intellectual growth is. ….There is nothing good about dying of cancer, especially when, as I do, you have four children under the age of eleven and a wife whom you lust after and adore.
Cancer may be a death sentence, but there are many ways to read the sen­tence. Resignation is only one of them, and a particularly arrogant one at that, because it pre­sumes to know, as it cannot, the outcome in every detail.
You no longer waste or mark time. You fill it, because now you can see the brim from where you are lying.

“In a sense,” Flannery O’Connor wrote to a friend about the lupus that would kill her at thirty-nine, "Sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.
How could it possibly be merciful of God to reduce you to the hyperawareness, every second of your waking life, that death is relentlessly approaching? Even if it is a knowl­edge that most other men and women do not have, regardless of what they may like to say, is it knowledge worth having?

You find yourself on a distant planet, alone, with only your own inner resources to fall back upon. No amount of magical thinking or denial will alter your circumstances. You either accept what you have become, and rise above yourself to attend to the others who still need your attention, or you spend your last months in the confine­ment of self-pity.

In Thanksgiving For Sickness Before Death  Rod Dreher comments

It won’t surprise you that this reminds me of the wisdom Dante acquires midway through his journey through Paradiso: That he can do nothing to reverse his condition of exile, but he does have the freedom to choose how to respond to it. His fate is to suffer in that particular way, but the courageous thing to do, the noble knight Cacciaguida tells him, is to choose to turn suffering into a virtue. Learn its lessons, and realizing that you have nothing left to lose, tell the truth, so that others may profit from what your experience teaches. You sojourn through a strange land, and your adventure teaches you things about life that could help others to improve their own lives, if only by giving them the tools with which to bear their own suffering more courageously.

 Flamedance Candle

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:10 PM | Permalink

February 13, 2014

Abraham Lincoln on grief

In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.

Letter to Fanny McCullough (23 December 1862); Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:45 AM | Permalink

January 25, 2014

"Keeping life alive, and passing it on"

That we are living through a dark age. An age, if you like, of ‘endarkenment’ — and I don’t necessarily mean that negatively. The world is aflood with dark psychic fluid, everything’s stained with it. We all say we hate the stuff, but we don’t act that way, we splash in it. It’s an age in which, for reasons we can’t comprehend, everything’s being turned inside out, everything’s imploding and exploding at once, and we can’t stop it.

And it’s going to continue, it’ll go on for a long, long time, longer than we’re going to be alive. So we can’t find peace, we can’t ‘win,’ it’s not going to be all right. Not for us. But that doesn’t have to rob us of purpose; in fact it’s the opposite, it implies a great purpose: That what each of us must do is cleave to what we find most beautiful in the human heritage — and pass it on. So that one day, one day when this endarkenment exhausts itself, those precious things we’ve passed on will still be alive, stained perhaps but functional, still present in some form, and it will be possible for the people of that day to make use of them to construct a life that is a life — the life of freedom and variety and order and light and dark, in their proper proportions (whatever they may be). The life that we’d choose now if we could.

And that to pass these precious fragments on is our mission, a dangerous mission — that if you were going to volunteer for crucial, hazardous work, work of great importance and risk, this might be the job you drew. And it isn’t a bad job at all. Actually, it’s the best job. And his mother, and me, and our friends — ‘And you too, man,’ I said, ‘I can see it in your eyes’ — that’s what we’re doing here. Trying to do. And it’s no small thing, it’s the best, man, it’s one of the few things left to be proud of.
Maybe the most important thing to remember right now is that many people are doing this work. It's more public in a writer or an artist or an environmentalist, but anyone who loves something life-giving and tends it — to garden, or to read, or to brew beer, or (even this is becoming lost) to take long walks — is, as Pasternak put it, keeping life alive, and passing it on.

Michael Ventura, The Age of Endarkenment, Whole Earth Review, Winter 1989 via The Great Zero Gate

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:45 AM | Permalink

January 8, 2014

Giving Death Its Due

Carl Trueman in First Things writes Dylan Thomas and Giving Death Its Due

Thomas was indeed a remarkable talent. At age nineteen, he penned the magnificent and defiant ‘And death shall have no dominion.’ The imagery and the simple power of the form are stunning; that it was written by a man yet to reach adulthood is a source of envy to those of us who are mere mortal……And yet, for all of the maturity of the poetry, the sentiment is unmistakably that of a young man: The defiance of death has that naive, exultant quality, reveling in the fact that death may take the body but it cannot break the soul.
Thomas wrote perhaps his most famous poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ His father was dying and, touched by mortality in a way that becomes unavoidable as one ages, Thomas’s defiance here is somewhat different.  In this poem, death does have a certain dominion. The only response is to rage, rage against the dying of the light.  Faced with the reality of death, there is no romantic heroism left beyond that offered by the ultimately impotent shaking of a fist before the coming silent darkness.

 Dylan Thomas

Finally, when Thomas himself died, one of the unfinished poems he left behind was ‘Elegy,’ a gloomy reflection upon his father’s death which begins with the haunting lines:

Too proud to die, broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away
A cold kind brave in his narrow pride

There is no hint of triumph here and no defiant anger either. Just a feeling of resignation. His attitude to death has altered.
Thomas closed ‘Elegy’ with the moving—and in my experience truthful lines—about his dead father: ‘Until I die he will not leave my side.’ These were perhaps the last lines he ever wrote. After all, one does not ‘come to terms’ with a beloved father’s death; one simply learns to live in the bleak presence of his absence.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

October 31, 2013

"Death is a great teacher, & should not be shut up."

In a fine tribute to his mother who died earlier this month, David Warren reflects on death.

Death is anyway for our benefit. As lessons go in spiritual biology, it is the great teacher. And as a great teacher, it commands one’s attention.

I am naturally opposed to the glib school, among our modern behavioral hygienists. Guilt, regret, & mourning: all good. Even an occasional round of embarrassment. There’s a lot of crap out there on “closure” & the like: pop psychology from the moral & intellectual goons, embedded now in our statist, institutional psychology. Death is a great teacher, & should not be shut up.

It makes a rich field for humor, because it eliminates the “happyface” attitude, or better, reveals it as an exceptionally idiotic form of psychosis. For what the devil & the “happyface” have in common, is the inability to find anything funny, especially the ridiculous in their own behavior. Laughter is their scourge; it stings them like holy water. And it is deepened in the presence of death, when the apprehension of the comic stands, often strangely reverent, just where it finds the intersection with the “tragic view of life.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:04 PM | Permalink

October 27, 2013

Deathbed portraits

From The Sketch Pad Near the Deathbed by Theodore Dalrymple

This persuaded me that the one thing we refuse to do in these supposedly multicultural times is to try to see the world, including ourselves, through the eyes of others, either in time or in space. Might it not be that those others would consider our own determination to push aside or avoid personal confrontation with death—which is, after all, still the inevitable dénouement of human life, technical progress notwithstanding—morbid and neurotic? Is our avoidance of all contact with death (except on video games) not a pretense that we shall live forever, that death is an aberration that we shall not fall into thanks to our healthy diet, our full health insurance, and our thirty minutes’ exercise a day, and that, while some people no doubt continue to die, it is really by their own fault or at their own insistence? Is not our revulsion from deathbed portraits—an old genre, after all, and by no means confined to the fin de siècle Viennese—more indicative that we wish to ignore the fundamental condition of our existence, even at the cost of forgetting our loved ones, so that we can get on with the business of life, which is to amuse ourselves?

In short, is it not an indication of shallowness and egotism?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:37 AM | Permalink

January 15, 2013

"Nobody runs away from it but embraces it, when time comes, with the great expectation of the encounter with Christ."

Looking Death in the Face or The Aesthetics of Dying

Eastern Orthodox Christianity has a different approach to the reality of our departure from life. Death is regarded as an integral part of life, as birth or growing old is. Of course death is still viewed as an unnatural state of mankind, a consequence of the great fall, but, nevertheless an unavoidable and necessary passage. Nobody runs away from it but embraces it, when time comes, with the great expectation of the encounter with Christ.

Fr. Gherorghe Calciu Dumitreasa, of blessed memory, was telling that in his old village, when someone would fall on the death bed, all the people, including the children, would go forth and ask for forgiveness from the one who was about to pass. After this forgiveness ritual the dying person would then confess his/her sins for the last time and receive Communion to prepare as much as possible for the inevitable encounter with Christ.

After passing, the body would be washed by members of the family, dressed in an outfit prepared in advance and would be deposed in a simple open coffin inside the house. The priest would come and read the eleven Resurrectional Gospels and the family and friends would keep vigil, reading from the Psalter.

On the day of the funeral the priest would bring the body in procession into the Church where the funeral service would take place. The deceased would lay there, resting in an open casket, in the midst of the community he/she belonged to. In the Orthodox Church the deceased are never considered as leaving the communion with the Church. Death is merely a passing from the Militant Church on Earth unto the Triumphant Church in Heaven. The departed are just temporarily missing physically from among us, but awaiting there, just us we do, the great reunion of Christ’s family in the Kingdom to come.
St. Basil the Great teaches therefore that the greatest philosophy is the continuous thought of death. Not in a fatalistic way, but in the spirit of a heightened awareness of our everyday actions and their impact of our state after leaving this life. Instead of being preoccupied on how to hide or make death more bearable by artificial means, we should embrace it and transform it in an element of change in our lives towards a more responsible existence
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:55 AM | Permalink

December 1, 2012

Zig Ziglar, R.I.P.

Zig Ziglar, upbeat motivational speaker and author, dies at 86

Rising by one’s bootstraps through the “power of positive thinking” has long been a compelling narrative in American lore. Few messengers of prosperity have been able to sustain a relentlessly upbeat and lucrative career for as long as Zig Ziglar.

Zig Ziglar! A human exclamation point! The world’s most popular motivational speaker, as he was often described, was always excited because “you never judge a day by the weather!”
What his words lacked in depth, they made up for in conviction.
His first book, “Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles,” published in 1974 and later retitled “See You at the Top,” urged readers to re-evaluate their lives with a “checkup from the neck up” and to quit their “stink in’ thinkin.’ ”

A Motivational Maestro

A onetime cookware salesman who boasted he was “born in L.A. — Lower Alabama,” Mr. Ziglar wrote the 1975 motivational book, “See You At The Top,” but it was rejected by 30 firms before finding a backer in a small Louisiana publishing house. The book went on to sell more than a quarter of a million copies and remains in print 37 years later. In all, Mr. Ziglar “has written more than 30 sales and motivational books, 10 of which have appeared on best-seller lists and have been translated into more than 36 different languages,” according to an official biography
In 1972, as his public speaking career was starting, Mr. Ziglar underwent a religious conversion, becoming a born-again Christian. He incorporated references to faith into his public talks, despite warnings that this would be career suicide. Against expectations, his faith helped to connect him to his audiences. Mr. Ziglar became a lifetime member of the National Speakers Association and was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame.

Forbes publishes a few of his inspirational quotes:  >

“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”

“You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.”

“People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude."

So does Maggie's Farm

"If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time."

"You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have impact on a life"
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:27 AM | Permalink

October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs on Death

In the commencement address Steve Jobs gave in 2005 at Stanford University, he told three stories, the first about connecting the dots, the second about love and loss  and the third about death.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

His difficulty in getting a liver transplant in California because of the long waiting lists  - his transplanted liver came from Tennessee - led Jobs to lobby Maria Shriver over a dinner attended and then the Governor.  Steve Jobs' Forgotten Life-Saving Legacy

In October 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that made California the first state in the nation to create a live donor registry for kidney transplants. The bill also required California drivers to decide whether they want to be organ donors when they renew their driver licenses. According to one supporter, this second measure alone should double the number of organ transplants available in California.  Neither of these life-saving changes to California law would ever have happened without the help of Jobs.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:35 PM | Permalink

October 3, 2011

Euthanasia hides behind a false mask of compassion

Wesley Smith writes Legal Assisted Suicide Would Make Elder Abuse Epidemic Worse.

He points to the US Senate Special Committee on Aging and testimony relating to Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation by Marie-These Connolly, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  What she had to say is truly horrifying.  People with dementia suffer staggering rates of mistreatment.  A 2010 study in California found that 47% of people with dementia being cared for at home by family members were mistreated.

Then he points to a specific case of man who posed as a dedicated husband willing to risk jail to help his beloved wife who was suffering from progressive multiple sclerosis kill herself.

The Myrna Lebov assisted suicide–facilitated by her husband, George Delury to put her out of his misery– serves as an apt example of how easy it is to hide abuse behind a false mask of “compassion.”

Turns out his computer records show how he destroyed her will by making her feel worthless and a burden who kept him from living the life he wanted.  In the end he gave his wife enough drugs for overdose, but, anxious the drugs might not worked,  he murdered her by suffocating her with a plastic bag.

 Old Man's Hands Crutch

The Netherlands continues to be at the deadly edge of killing old people.  At least in Niger and Afghanistan, doctors are supposed to save lives, not take them. Not so in the Netherlands.

Could there be a worse place in the world to be a doctor than the Netherlands? Not because of the standard of its health care; it has one of the highest life expectancies in the world and one of the lowest infant mortality rates. But because the professional association of Dutch physicians has decreed that euthanasia is an integral part of a doctor’s job.
Ten years after legalisation in the Netherlands, euthanasia for the terminally ill has become commonplace. Some elderly people are so afraid of being killed by doctors that they carry please-do-not-euthanse-me  cards. About 2,400 people officially die through euthanasia every year -- although the real number may be significantly higher because doctors often fail to do all the paperwork required by the government.

Now public debate has moved on to euthanasia for those who are weary of life but not ill and euthanasia for people with dementia and psychiatric conditions....If this is not a repudiation of all that doctors stand for, what is?

Living wills for people who want to live

BioEdge recently reported that nervous Nellies in the Netherlands were carrying “please DO resuscitate me” cards instead of “do not resuscitate” cards. Apparently they are worried about the possibility of involuntary euthanasia.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, In the Hand of God

Dr. Bernard Nathanson described himself as a man who "helped usher in this barbaric age" of abortion-on-demand, "the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States."  As one of the founders of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now called NARAL), who admitted fabricating the numbers of illegal abortions and women killed from botched abortions, he paved the way for Roe v. Wade.
Ultrasound helped him see what pro-lifers knew -- the human being in the womb.  He committed his last abortion in 1979..... Science, reason, and human dignity changed his mind on abortion.  Love transformed his heart toward God.
He wrote of his two conversions in his autobiography, "The Hand of God."
[H]e feared a culture that endorses abortion would lead to industrial euthanasia.  "Drawing largely from my experience with a similar brand of pagan excess,
I predict that entrepreneurs will set up multiple small, discreet infirmaries for those who wish, have been talked into, coerced into, or medically deceived into death. ...

But that will only be the first phase.  As the thanatoria flourish and expand into chains and franchised operations, the accountants will eventually assume command, slashing expenses and overheads as competition grows.  The final streamlined, efficient, and economically flawless version of the thanatorium will resemble nothing so much as the assembly line factories that abortion clinics have become and - farther on down the slope - the ovens of Auschwitz."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:57 AM | Permalink

September 23, 2011

Euthanasia hides behind a false mask of compassion

Wesley Smith writes Legal Assisted Suicide Would Make Elder Abuse Epidemic Worse.

He points to the US Senate Special Committee on Aging and testimony relating to Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation by Marie-These Connolly, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  What she had to say is truly horrifying.  People with dementia suffer staggering rates of mistreatment.  A 2010 study in California found that 47% of people with dementia being cared for at home by family members were mistreated.

Then he points to a specific case of man who posed as a dedicated husband willing to risk jail to help his beloved wife who was suffering from progressive multiple sclerosis kill herself.

The Myrna Lebov assisted suicide–facilitated by her husband, George Delury to put her out of his misery– serves as an apt example of how easy it is to hide abuse behind a false mask of “compassion.”

Turns out his computer records show how he destroyed her will by making her feel worthless and a burden who kept him from living the life he wanted.  In the end he gave his wife enough drugs for overdose, but, anxious the drugs might not worked,  he murdered her by suffocating her with a plastic bag.

 Old Man's Hands Crutch

The Netherlands continues to be at the deadly edge of killing old people.  At least in Niger and Afghanistan, doctors are supposed to save lives, not take them. Not so in the Netherlands.

Could there be a worse place in the world to be a doctor than the Netherlands? Not because of the standard of its health care; it has one of the highest life expectancies in the world and one of the lowest infant mortality rates. But because the professional association of Dutch physicians has decreed that euthanasia is an integral part of a doctor’s job.
Ten years after legalisation in the Netherlands, euthanasia for the terminally ill has become commonplace. Some elderly people are so afraid of being killed by doctors that they carry please-do-not-euthanse-me  cards. About 2,400 people officially die through euthanasia every year -- although the real number may be significantly higher because doctors often fail to do all the paperwork required by the government.

Now public debate has moved on to euthanasia for those who are weary of life but not ill and euthanasia for people with dementia and psychiatric conditions....If this is not a repudiation of all that doctors stand for, what is?

Living wills for people who want to live

BioEdge recently reported that nervous Nellies in the Netherlands were carrying “please DO resuscitate me” cards instead of “do not resuscitate” cards. Apparently they are worried about the possibility of involuntary euthanasia.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, In the Hand of God

Dr. Bernard Nathanson described himself as a man who "helped usher in this barbaric age" of abortion-on-demand, "the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States."  As one of the founders of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now called NARAL), who admitted fabricating the numbers of illegal abortions and women killed from botched abortions, he paved the way for Roe v. Wade.
Ultrasound helped him see what pro-lifers knew -- the human being in the womb.  He committed his last abortion in 1979..... Science, reason, and human dignity changed his mind on abortion.  Love transformed his heart toward God.
He wrote of his two conversions in his autobiography, "The Hand of God."
[H]e feared a culture that endorses abortion would lead to industrial euthanasia.  "Drawing largely from my experience with a similar brand of pagan excess,
I predict that entrepreneurs will set up multiple small, discreet infirmaries for those who wish, have been talked into, coerced into, or medically deceived into death. ...

But that will only be the first phase.  As the thanatoria flourish and expand into chains and franchised operations, the accountants will eventually assume command, slashing expenses and overheads as competition grows.  The final streamlined, efficient, and economically flawless version of the thanatorium will resemble nothing so much as the assembly line factories that abortion clinics have become and - farther on down the slope - the ovens of Auschwitz."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:13 PM | Permalink

June 20, 2011

"Death is no therapy at all"

Msgr Charles Pope on why Death is No Therapy At All

Pope John Paul, and also Pope Benedict, have referred to Western Culture as a “culture of death.” Fundamentally what this means is that, when confronted with human difficulties, the offered solution is increasingly, the death or non-existence of the person with the problem.
“Don’t you think that death is a strange therapy? What if you went to the doctor and he said to you, ‘You are obviously alive now, but someday, in the future you might loose a limb, or get sick, or you might loose your job and have to go on welfare, so I am going to kill you right now, here in my office.’  What do you think of this? Isn’t death a horrible and strange therapy? You would probably respond that you would like to live and take your chances.
The Catholic Bishops of the United States just issued a policy statement on the question of physician assisted suicide entitled, To Live Each Day With Dignity.
The idea that assisting a suicide shows compassion and eliminates suffering is…misguided. It eliminates the person….

The claim of the “Right to Die” Movement that it is all about dignity is once again shown to result in precisely the opposite. For, in order to attribute this supposed dignity  to some, it strips many more of the dignity they have. The poor, the disabled, the chronically and terminally ill (we are all terminal), are said, increasingly, to have lives not worth living. It would be better for them (us?) to be dead. Really, says who? Does it really bestow dignity on them for us to speak in this manner. And if some DO suffer anxiety or depression over their state, is killing them really to be considered a legitimate or credible therapy? Is this dignity?
The Bishops go on to beautifully remind us that
the dying process may well be one of the most important and fruitful times in our life if we face it with faith. I have surely learned this in working with the dying. I experienced it most powerfully with my father, as he lay dying. Some very important things happened for him (and me) during those months. The dying process is often a gift in a strange package, and it is anything but meaningless. In fact, it is one of the most meaningful times of life. To short-circuit this by suicidal notions, or false compassion, is a terrible misunderstanding of the truth and grace available to the dying and those who care for them
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:31 PM | Permalink

June 6, 2011

Abide with Me

Abide with Me, a Hymn to share with the dying by Msgr Charles Pope.

The author, Henry Francis Lyte  (1793-1847) was an Anglican pastor in Devonshire England, for 23 years.  In 1844, Three years before his death Lyte was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Despite this, he continued to work hard and was known to say, “It is better to wear out, than to rust out.” But his physical condition continued to deteriorate, until finally on September 4, 1847, at 54 years of age, he stood in his pulpit to deliver his farewell message. It is said, He was so weak that he almost crawled to the pulpit.

Later that day he retired to his room and wrote the words to this hymn: Abide With Me, as he meditated on the death he knew would soon approach. Advised by doctors to leave the cold, damp, coastal weather of England, he left for the Mediterranean. He died en route. A fellow clergyman who was with Henry during his final hours reported that Henry’s last words were: “Peace! Joy!”

Abide With Me was set to music by William H. Monk (1823-1889), and was played at Henry Lyte’s funeral service.

I have, when the situation was right, shared this him with the dying. Not all have fully accepted that they are dying, but for those who have reached the stage of acceptance, and when death seems certain, this hymn is very powerful, personal and poignant.

Read the whole thing because Msgr Pope explicates each the verses in this hymn to  to pray for and with the dying.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:10 AM | Permalink

May 11, 2011

" In the absence of death, humans would have no perspective on anything. "

Gaghdad Bob on the importance of death.

Which provoked in me the thought: In the absence of death, humans would have no perspective on anything.

If terrestrial life were eternal, it would render everything meaningless, in the sense that value is usually a function of scarcity. Which means that the existentialists -- including Becker -- have it precisely backward and upside down in suggesting that the meaning of death is the death of meaning. Which, when you think about it, makes no sense, for how could meaninglessness mean anything?

Of course, it took at least another decade for me to figure this out: that death is indeed the key, but not in the way existentialists imagine.

Since Death is the existential key to the siddhi, it should come as no surprise that it has a central place in Christianity. For only in Christianity does God submit to Death, which is the only thing that can transform it from the existential negative of Becker and other existentialists into an ontological positive that shapes and transforms our lives in a beneficial way.

To be "born again" is to die to the old existence -- to give Death its due, and surrender to its grim reality. We die before we die in order to be reborn on another plane where death does not rule the night.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:06 PM | Permalink

February 22, 2011

Making up rules ahead of time

The Ars Moriendi and Moral Thinking

I have been reading Rob Moll's excellent Intervarsity Press book The Art of Dying.  One of Moll's key points is that we know we will die and in order to do so well, we need to have thought about it ahead of time.  He doesn't mean that we should obsess about death, sleep in caskets, or wear black all the time like a disturbed woman I saw on a television program.  Instead, he encourages us to think about what it means to have a good death.  While we are removed from the immediate danger, take advantage of the calm to consider how we should die and how we should make decisions about dying.
The greater lesson is that we should all take pains to reflect on who we want to be and what we really believe. It was once common to speak of the examined life. That phrase fell under the massive heap of self-help materials and endless reflection on why we don't have a better sex life, more money, and a better job. But the examined life goes deeper than that. It comes down to knowing who you are. Without it, you will almost inevitably run in the face of danger, quail before the bully, and excel in self-justification after the fact rather than action in the relevant frame.

Unprepared and without prior thought, none of us know how we will react in these situations. But we can prepare ourselves for the event and drastically increase the chance that we WILL do what we merely hope we would.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:02 PM | Permalink

December 30, 2010

The role of religion

Umberto Eco on God isn't big enough for some people

Money can do a lot of things - but it cannot help reconcile you to your own death.

And if you believe in money alone, then sooner or later, you discover money's great limitation: it is unable to justify the fact that you are a mortal animal. Indeed, the more you try escape that fact, the more you are forced to realise that your possessions can't make sense of your death.

It is the role of religion to provide that justification. Religions are systems of belief that enable human beings to justify their existence and which reconcile us to death.


I was raised as a Catholic, and although I have abandoned the Church, this December, as usual, I will be putting together a Christmas crib for my grandson. We'll construct it together - as my father did with me when I was a boy. I have profound respect for the Christian traditions - which, as rituals for coping with death, still make more sense than their purely commercial alternatives.

I think I agree with Joyce's lapsed Catholic hero in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?" The religious celebration of Christmas is at least a clear and coherent absurdity. The commercial celebration is not even that.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:46 PM | Permalink

November 17, 2010

The Poet Undertaker

A lovely piece at The New Old Age at The New York Times, A Poet Well Versed in Grief about Thomas Lynch, the poet undertaker.

Born to a family who ran a funeral home in small-town Michigan, the poet Thomas Lynch began pondering aging and death at a young age, as a child leafing through the gory pages of his father’s mortician texts.

“A lot of 15-year-olds think they’re going to live forever,” he said. “But when I was 15, I sort of knew I wasn’t, because I spent a lot of time at the funeral home.
Here is the title poem from his newly-published collection
I say clean your plate and say your prayers,
go out for a long walk after supper
and listen for the voice that sounds like you
talking to yourself, you know the one:
contrapuntal, measured to footfall, true
to your own metabolism. Listen –
inspiration, expiration, it’s all the same,
the sigh of creation and its ceasing -
whatever’s going to happen’s going to happen

"Walking Papers: Poems" (Thomas Lynch)

I've been posting about Thomas Lynch for years now in The Calling of a Funeral Director

The generation today bringing loved ones to funeral homes is the first generation, he said, that tries to get past grieving by not having a body at a funeral. He believes this carries the risk of spiritual and emotional peril.

and Going the Distance

The good death, good grief, good funerals come from keeping the vigils, from bearing our burdens honorably, from honest witness and remembrance. They come from going the distance with the ones we love.

I quite enjoyed his first book about the 'dismal trade'.

"The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade" (Thomas Lynch)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:36 PM | Permalink

May 25, 2010

Beloved and Venerable Bede

The last days of St Bede the Venerable, whose feast day is today

How much he was beloved by them is made manifest by the touching account of the saint's last sickness and death left us by Cuthbert, one of his disciples.

Their studious pursuits were not given up on account of his illness and they read aloud by his bedside, but constantly the reading was interrupted by their tears.

"I can with truth declare", writes Cuthbert of his beloved master, "that I never saw with my eyes or heard with my ears anyone return thanks so unceasingly to the living God." Even on the day of his death (the vigil of the Ascension, 735) the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John.

In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished,

"Thou hast spoken truth", Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father."

And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath.

 St Bede

Called "The Father of English History:, he wrote the first history of the Church in England in 731. 
In numberless ways, but especially in his moderation, gentleness, and breadth of view, Bede stands out from his contemporaries. In point of scholarship he was undoubtedly the most learned man of his time. A very remarkable trait, noticed by Plummer (I, p. xxiii), is his sense of literary property, an extraordinary thing in that age. He himself scrupulously noted in his writings the passages he had borrowed from others and he even begs the copyists of his works to preserve the references,

Pope Benedict's remarks on St. Bede last year
Following the "realism" of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person "not only a Christian but Christ." In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is "self-generated," or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes "Mother of God," participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different "states of life":

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:52 PM | Permalink

April 22, 2010

Standing at the Funeral

"Count no man’s life wasted if there is a beautiful, mysterious woman weeping at his funeral," Tom Holt via Joseph Bottum

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:15 AM | Permalink

September 14, 2009

"Death was God's severe mercy" *Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft , The Ecliipse of the Permanent Things

Death was God's severe mercy, the tourniquet around the wound of sin, to limit sin to 80 years or so. Remove the tourniquet, and history would bleed to death. Imagine the Roman Empire forever. Imagine the Third Reich forever. Imagine America forever. Lewis speaks of our "nightmare civilizations" whirling around themselves in never-ending gyrations of selfishness and despair (in Miracles), and (elsewhere, in Mere Christianity) of eggs that never hatched (by death) and so went rotten. "You can't just be a good egg forever; you must hatch or go bad." Death lets us hatch; artificial immortality would make us go bad forever. Hell incarnate would reign on earth. That would have to be the end of the world. And most geneticists estimate we will have it in 2-300 years (according to Osborn Seagerberg in The Immortality Factor).

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:05 AM | Permalink

July 14, 2009

Camouflage Angel

A model of a woman that we all should know about 

Camouflage Angel’ Spends Last Moments With U.S. Combat Casualties

The emergency-room trauma call and the medical staff's immediate action upon his arrival is only a memory to her now; sitting quietly at the bedside of her brother-in-arms, she carefully takes his hand, thanking him for his service and promising she will not leave his side.
He is a critically injured combat casualty, and she is Army Sgt. Jennifer Watson of the Casualty Liaison Team here.

Although a somber scene, it is not an uncommon one for the Peru, Ind., native, who in addition to her primary duties throughout the last 14 months, has taken it upon herself to ensure no U.S. casualty passes away alone. Holding each of their hands, she sits with them until the end, no matter the day or the hour.

"It's unfortunate that their families can't be here," said Watson, who is deployed here from Fort Campbell, Ky. "So I took it upon myself to step up and be that family while they are here. No one asked me to do it; I just did what I felt was right in my heart. I want them to know they are heroes.

"I feel just because they are passing away does not mean they cannot hear and feel someone around them," she continued. "I talk to them, thanking them for what they have done, telling them they are a hero, they will never be forgotten, and I explain my job to them to help them be at ease knowing the family will be told the truth."
"Angel" and "hero" are only two of the many titles Watson has been given since arriving at JBB; although she is appreciative of the kind words, she remains humble.

"I am far from an angel," said the sergeant with a smile. "I just do what is in my heart. I guess for me, I think about the family and the closure of knowing the Soldier did not pass away alone. To say I'm a hero ... no. The heroes are my guys who come in [through Hero's Highway]."

Reflecting on her time here, Watson said she is extremely thankful for the opportunity she has had to work side-by-side with the Air Force.

"The staff of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group has done an amazing job since I have been here," she said. "They are incredible. They have done procedures and saved the lives of the most critically injured Soldiers, and have been some of the most professional people I have ever worked with.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:57 PM | Permalink

July 4, 2009

Unschooled in Transcendence

The Anchoress on Had enough Michael Jackson yet?

The Jackson death has been spectacle, spectacle, spectacle, a freak show long on performance and short on real feeling – not unlike Jackson’s concert extravaganzas – and that makes the non-stop coverage seem completely out of balance and, really, kind of insane. I wonder if that’s because people – who have been told (and told, and told) that this is a huge event in their lives – are simply responding to the prompts. The press says “this is huge; everyone will remember where they were when they heard the news…” and some people think, “well, then yeah, this must be really big. Life defining moment here!” But it all seems more than a little forced. If the cameras are out, people will always come and perform for them.

I wonder if some of this outsized attention to the death of a confused and possibly abhorrent song-and-dance man in a bad wig has to do with people’s need for something “transcendent” in their lives, if what we’re witnessing is a post-modern, post-faith world, unschooled in transcendence, seeking out something -anything- that will make them feel part of a thing “bigger than themselves?” If so, that may be evidence of an epic fail on the part of the faith-community – people of all faiths – a failure in modeling faith in a manner that attracts, rather than repels.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:09 AM | Permalink

March 13, 2009

We Will Bury You

Headline stolen from James Taranto

In recession economy, students look to funeral careers

"They're looking for something stable, a career that will last them," said Michael Mastellone, chairman of the Nassau program. "And there will always be work out there."

Among the recent inquiries Mastellone fielded was one from a retired police officer who at 57 wondered whether there was an age limit to start the two-year program.

"He retired and his pension was fine, and now his retirement fund isn't fine anymore," Mastellone said.
The demographics don't hurt, either.

"I sometimes see a twinkle in the eye of some particularly entrepreneurial students . . . as they imagine what their future will be like with the aging of baby boomers," said Regina Smith, dean of the McCallister Institute in Manhattan, in an e-mail.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:28 PM | Permalink

February 8, 2009

When Death Comes

A poem by Mary Oliver

When Death Comes 

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

To buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
When death comes
Like the measles-pox;

When death comes
Like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
What is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:08 AM | Permalink

January 27, 2009

Despair, Joy and Boredom

Peter Kreeft on the Three Philosophies of Life

There are ultimately only three philosophies of life, and each one is represented by one of the following books of the Bible:

1. Life as vanity: Ecclesiastes
2. Life as suffering: Job
3. Life as love: Song of Songs


The reason these are the only three possible philosophies of life is because they represent the only three places or conditions in which we can be. Ecclcsiastcs' "vanity" represents Hell. Job's suffering represents Purgatory. [1] And Song of Songs' love represents Heaven. All three conditions begin here and now on earth. As C. S. Lewis put it, "All that seems earth is Hell or Heaven." It is a shattering line, and Lewis added this one to it: "Lord, open not too often my weak eyes to this.

The essence of Hell is not suffering but vanity, not pain but purposelessness, not physical suffering but spiritual suffering. Dante was right to have the sign over Hell's gate read: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Suffering is not the essence of Hell, because suffering can be hopeful. It was for job. Job never lost his faith and his hope (which is faith directed at the future), and his suffering proved to be purifying, purgative, educational: it gave him eyes to see God. That is why we are all on earth.

Finally, Heaven is love, for Heaven is essentially the presence of God, and God is essentially love. ("God is love.')
Despair is Job's mood. His suffering is not only bodily but also spiritual. What has he to look forward to except death? He has lost everything, even God--especially God, it seems.

Joy is the mood of love, young love, new love, "falling in love". That is the wonder in Song of Songs: that the beloved should be; that life should be; that anything, now all lit by the new light of love, should be--as mysterious a glory as it was to job a mysterious burden.

Boredom is the mood of Ecciesiastes. It is a modern mood. Indeed, there is no word for it in any ancient language! In this mood, there is neither a reason to die, as in Job, nor a reason to live, as in Song of Songs. This is the deepest pit of all.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:56 AM | Permalink

January 10, 2009

Father Richard John Neuhaus, R. I. P.

Joseph Bottum quite movingly announced the death of Fr. Neuhaus.

Our great, good friend is gone.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and soon after, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather, for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

New York Times obit by Laurie Goodstein

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a theologian who transformed himself from a liberal Lutheran leader of the civil rights and antiwar struggles in the 1960s to a Roman Catholic beacon of the neoconservative movement of today, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 72 and lived in Manhattan.
Father Neuhaus’s best-known book, “The Naked Public Square,” argued that American democracy must not be stripped of religious morality. Published in 1984, it provoked a debate about the role of religion in affairs of state and was embraced by the growing Christian conservative movement.

In the last 20 years, Father Neuhaus helped give evangelical Protestants and Catholics a theological framework for joining forces in the nation’s culture wars.

The Associated Press
A native of Canada and the son of a Lutheran pastor, Neuhaus began his own work as a Lutheran minister at St. John the Evangelist Lutheran Church in a predominantly African-American Brooklyn neighborhood. He was active in the civil rights movement and other liberal causes. In 1964, he joined the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan as the first co-chairmen of the anti-war group Clergy Concerned About Vietnam.  But he eventually broke with the left, partly over the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

In 1990, he converted to Catholicism and a year later was ordained by New York Cardinal John O'Connor.  "I was thirty years a Lutheran pastor, and after thirty years of asking myself why I was not a Roman Catholic I finally ran out of answers that were convincing either to me or to others," he wrote.

 Richard John Neuhaus

Father Raymond de Souza on Neuhaus as a Catholic intellectual.

With the death of Father Richard John Neuhaus on Jan. 8, the Catholic Church lost one of its greatest public intellectuals, a theologian who brought the light of the Gospel to the world of public life.

More than that, though, Father Neuhaus made possible a new world of intellectual engagement with the culture.

By the 1990s, Father Neuhaus had, along with his friends George Weigel and Michael Novak, wrought a sea change in Catholic intellectual life. With the obvious favor of Pope John Paul II, Father Neuhaus and his colleagues articulated a new, confident Catholicism which sought less to adapt to the secular culture as it did to challenge it with a fresh application of the Catholic tradition

A few months before his reception into the Catholic Church, Richard John Neuhaus launched a new journal, First Things, which became the most prominent and influential “journal of religion and public life” in America.

Read by religious leaders both Catholic, Protestant and Jewish, influential figures in theology, law and politics, and bright students in universities all over, First Things made widely available the thought of its editor in chief, but also a whole cadre of established Catholic thinkers: Avery Dulles, George Weigel, Mary Ann Glendon, Russell Hittinger, as well as new voices such as the current editor, Jody Bottum.

A generation of orthodox, engaged Christian writers was launched by First Things.

‘First Blog’

Yet, it remains true that for most readers, the first thing about First Things was Father Neuhaus himself, who pioneered in print what today might be called the first blog.

Death on a Thursday Morning by the editors of the National Review

Richard John Neuhaus, who died earlier today in New York, was the most influential Catholic and Christian theologian and writer in America during the second half of the 20th century. His influence can be compared to that of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, with one important distinction: Fulton Sheen exercised his sway over the public directly, through his radio and television sermons. Father Neuhaus did so less directly, through his books and articles, through his editorship of two important magazines devoted to religion and politics, through his friendship with Pope John Paul II, and through his impact on other theologians both in the Catholic Church and in other Christian congregations. Partly for those reasons, however, Neuhaus’s influence is likely to be the deeper, longer-lasting and more extensive one.

Neuhaus began his adult life as a Canadian, a left-winger, and a Lutheran. He never lost his love for his country of birth — he spent six weeks of every year vacationing, reading, and reflecting in the Quebec countryside — his respect for a liberalism shaped by charity, or his admiration for the Lutheran tradition. He became nonetheless an American, a conservative, and a Catholic. And from these three conversions he forged for himself a distinctive religious identity that was conservative and generous, traditional and open, charitable and — yes — combative.

Reflections by Raymond Arroyo in the Wall St Journal
Of his work with Martin Luther King Jr., he once wrote that God "used his most unworthy servant Martin to create in our public life a luminous moment of moral truth about what Gunnar Myrdal rightly called 'the America dilemma,' racial justice. It seems a long time ago now, but there is no decline in the frequency of my thanking God for his witness and for having been touched, however briefly, by his friendship, praying that he may rest in peace, and that his cause may yet be vindicated."
And though he enjoyed a series of presidential appointments, in the Carter, Reagan and first Bush administration, he never lost sight of his role as a priest. He would write: "Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:21 AM | Permalink

December 20, 2008

"Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils.."

Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils..."

"... but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Those words are from the last McGinley Lecture given by Avery Cardinal Dulles.  He was no longer able to speak and his lecture had to be read for him.

On his trip to America,  Pope Benedict visited Cardinal Dulles, then 90,  at Fordham University

Benedict, the university professor, saluted America’s greatest scholarly theologian. And, suitably, the latter encounter was private, at Fordham, a place of teaching, with the two scholars speaking about their earlier theological collaborations and their books.

“Eminenza, Eminenza, I recall the work you did for the International Theological Commission in the 1990s,” said the Holy Father as he greeted Cardinal Dulles with obvious enthusiasm. Cardinal Dulles kissed the papal ring and smiled back at Benedict. Unable to speak, Cardinal Dulles had prepared a text that was read to the Holy Father by a fellow Jesuit priest.

Cardinal Dulles then presented Benedict with a copy of his most recently published book, a splendid collection of the McGinley Lectures he has been delivering at Fordham for 20 years under the title Church and Society.

Benedict immediately took it in hand, read the inscription and began to look through the pages — as happy as any scholar is to get a new book by a respected friend.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:10 AM | Permalink

December 7, 2008

Quick bites of Goethe

As heirs to Western civilization, our common legacy as is so vast and so great, we can not take it all in.    At best, we dip into it from time to time, sometimes as a citizen when we vote or speak against the government without any fear ; sometimes as believers when we gather in faith communities to worship God without any thought that we may be endangering our lives.  Other times we are transported in a museum before a Renaissance painting or a Greek sculpture or in a symphony hall listening to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.

But often we depend on others to communicate the greatness of someone long dead but whose legacy still nourishes minds and hearts.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was such a man. 

According to George Eliot, Goethe was "Germany's greatest man of letters. —poet, critic, playwright, and novelist—and the last true polymath to walk the earth."  I suppose he holds a similar position in the German imagination as Thomas Jefferson, another polymath, holds in the American imagination. 

 Goethe By Steiler, Karl Joseph

The Reader's Companion to World Literature says
Goethe comes as close to deserving the title of a universal genius as any man who has ever lived.  though he will be considered here as a man of letters, it is important to remember that he had an intelligent grasp of all the arts, that he successfully carried burdensome responsibilities as a public administrator, and that his scientific interests led him to make significant contributions to mineralogy, optics, comparative anatomy and plant morphology.

Today we look to bloggers who write about what they love.  Elizabeth Powers is the Goethe girl, a writer and literary scholar with a Ph.D in German literature and a consultant to the Metropolitan Museum.  She loves Goethe and has begun a blog Goethe Etc. that vibrates with sympathy with this great man and, like him, is interested and learned about many things. 

Maybe that's how we ordinary people can preserve Western civilization.  By writing about what we love and value, sharing our appreciation with the world and passing it on to the people we love.

Maybe we only have time for quick bites of what we most need - the accumulated wisdom of the past.  For me, quick bites are quotes and here are some:

On Character:  Talents are best nurtured in solitude; character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.

On Courtesy: There is a courtesy of the heart; it is allied to love.—From it springs the purest courtesy in the outward behavior....There is no outward sign of true courtesy that does not rest on a deep moral foundation.

On Happiness: The most happy man is he who knows how to bring into relation the end and the beginning of his life.  One has only to grow older to become more tolerant. I see no fault that I might not have committed myself.

On Kindness: Kindness is the golden chain by which society  is bound  together.

On Life:  Life is a quarry, out of which we are to mold and chisel and complete a character. Life is the childhood of our immortality.

On Love: We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.

On Immortality:  Those who hope for no other life are dead even for this.

On Architecture: I call architecture frozen music.

On Nature: Nature is the living, visible garment of God.

On Riches: Riches amassed in haste will diminish, but those collected by little and little will multiply.

On the Bible: It is a belief in the Bible, the fruit of deep meditation, which has served me as the guide of my moral and literary life.—I have found it a capital safely invested, and richly productive of interest.

And others I liked
Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.

Which is the best government? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.

First and last, what is demanded of genius is love of truth.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:11 PM | Permalink

November 2, 2008

The Prayer in the Pocket of the Soldier

The Homily on All Souls Day from the Preacher to the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa

Faith doesn't free believers from the anguish of having to die, but it soothes us with hope. A preface of the Mass (for All Souls' Day) says: "If the certainty of having to die saddens us, the hope of future immortality consoles us." In this sense, there is a moving testimony that also comes from Russia. In 1972, in a clandestine magazine a prayer was published that had been found in the jacket pocket of a soldier, Aleksander Zacepa, composed just before the World War II battle in which he would die.

It says:

Hear me, oh God! In my lifetime, I have not spoken with you even once, but today I have the desire to celebrate. Since I was little, they have always told me that you don't exist. And I, like an idiot, believed it.

I have never contemplated your works, but tonight I have seen from the crater of a grenade the sky full of stars, and I have been fascinated by their splendor. In that instant I have understood how terrible is the deception. I don't know, oh God, if you will give me your hand, but I say to you that you understand me …

Is it not strange that in the middle of a frightful hell, light has appeared to me, and I have discovered you?

I have nothing more to tell you. I feel happy, because I have known you. At midnight, we have to attack, but I am not afraid. You see us.

They have given the signal. I have to go. How good it was to be with you! I want to tell you, and you know, that the battle will be difficult: Perhaps this night, I will go to knock on your door. And if up to now, I have not been your friend, when I go, will you allow me to enter?

But, what's happening to me? I cry? My God, look at what has happened to me. Only now, I have begun to see with clarity. My God, I go. It will be difficult to return. How strange, now, death does not make me afraid.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:56 PM | Permalink

October 28, 2008

Dean Barnett R.I.P.

Dean Barnett, a well-known conservative columnist and blogger,  died too young at 41 but lived longer than he expected since he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. 

Living with a fatal disease can embitter one or make one more joyful for the life still left to live. Tributes around the blogosphere attest to Dean's joy and high spirits, great wit and good humor.

Boston Globe obit

"All his life he's been aware that he had this terminal disease but it never stopped him from doing everything and enjoying life to the fullest," his brother said. "Whether it was writing about politics, or working on his golf game, or spending time with friends and family."

"He very much enjoyed that he touched people, inspired people, provoked thoughts. It was perhaps the most fulfilling thing he did professionally," Keith Barnett said. "Although he didn't set out to do this, he was an example to the entire cystic fibrosis community that one could still build a life with meaning and I think he took pride in that."

From his book, The Plucky Smart Kid with the Fatal Disease comes these wise words

As I grew sicker, I had what for me was an extremely comforting insight. I came to view serious and progressive illness as an ever constricting circle with oneself at the center. The interior of the circle represents the contents of one’s life. As the circle gets smaller, things that were inside get forced out. Some of these things are dearly missed; others that were once thought precious get forced to the exterior and turn out to go surprisingly unlamented.

At the innermost point of the circle are the things that really matter: family, faith, love. These things stay with you until the day you die. At the very end, because the circle has shrunk down to its center, they’re all you have left. But as we approach that end, we finally realize that all along, they were what mattered most. As a consequence, life often remains beautiful and worthwhile right up until the end.

Here a column about Heroes Among Us

At one point during my interview, the questioner asked me if I expected to see a cure to CF in my lifetime. I answered no, but that it doesn’t really matter. When you see death up close, a couple of things become clear. One is that we all die, and that death is just part of the deal. The other is that life is such a blessing, that’s it just so great, even though you know the inevitable might be near you still want as many bites of the apple as possible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:41 AM | Permalink

June 13, 2008

"She had earned the right to silence."

One of my favorite writers, Theodore Darlrymple writes on The Pains of Memory

Most of my mother's suffering was unknown to me. Of course, there were people who suffered much worse than she: she never saw the inside of a concentration or extermination camp, for example. But yet, never to have seen her parents again, to have emigrated, friendless and penniless, to another country at the age of 17, and to have lost her fiancé killed in a war: that is enough for any human being.

She dealt with it by silence. When the Mayor of Berlin invited her back to Berlin towards the end of her life, she accepted, much to my surprise; and she pored over a map of the city, pointing out to me were she lived and where she went to school. When she got there, the streets were there, but she recognised nothing; bombs had razed everything to the ground.

I offered to go with her, but she went on her own. It is an unfashionable truth in these times of psychobabble and emotional intelligence, but a trouble shared is often a trouble doubled. She wanted all that she had seen, and all that she suffered, to go with her to the grave, for she was of the pessimistic view that man never learns, at least from the experience of others. I do not entirely agree, and wish she had said more; but she had earned the right to silence.   

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 PM | Permalink

February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley, a National Treasure

I've written Legacy Matters for several years now and I've never seen so many encomiums following a death of a great figure as I have read following the death of William F. Buckley.

The New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin, Sesquipedalian Spark of Right,  tells the story of his remarkable life and achievements.

Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964 and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.

President George W. Bush said Wednesday that Mr. Buckley “brought conservative thought into the political mainstream, and helped lay the intellectual foundation for America’s victory in the Cold War.”

In remarks at National Review’s 30th anniversary in 1985, President Reagan
You didn’t just part the Red Sea — you rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism,” Mr. Reagan said.

“And then, as if that weren’t enough,” the president continued, “you gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom.”
“All great biblical stories begin with Genesis,” George Will wrote in National Review in 1980. “And before there was Ronald Reagan, there was Barry Goldwater, and before there was Barry Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was Bill Buckley with a spark in his mind, and the spark in 1980 has become a conflagration.”
At the age of 50, Mr. Buckley crossed the Atlantic Ocean in his sailboat and became a novelist. Eleven of his novels are spy tales starring Blackford Oakes, who fights for the American way and beds the Queen of England in the first book.
Mr. Buckley’s spirit of fun was apparent in his 1965 campaign for mayor of New York on the ticket of the Conservative Party. When asked what he would do if he won, he answered, “Demand a recount.” He got 13.4 percent of the vote.

John Tierney on A Giant of Conservatism


Simply Superlative by George Nash focuses on his enormous productivity.
During his nearly 60 years in the public eye, William F. Buckley Jr. published 55 books (both fiction and nonfiction); dozens of book reviews; at least 56 introductions, prefaces, and forewords to other peoples’ books; more than 225 obituary essays; more than 800 editorials, articles, and remarks in National Review; several hundred articles in periodicals other than National Review; and approximately 5,600 newspaper columns. He gave hundreds of lectures around the world, hosted 1,429 separate Firing Line shows, and may well have composed more letters than any American who has ever lived.
William F. Buckley Jr. was arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century. For an entire generation he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure. He changed minds, he changed lives, and he helped to change the direction of American politics.

But it is the personal memories that are the most telling of his incredible generosity of spirit.  Nyron Magnet writes The Unbought Grace of Life
his whole being provided an answer to that ultimate question, How then should we live?
I saw his character become ever more clearly the unmistakable, irreplaceable Buckley: witty, cultivated, playful, urbane, gracious, brave, zestful, life-affirming, tireless, and gallant—the incarnation of grace. He taught many not only how to think but also how to be.

He did all this with singular flair and joie de vivre. Moreover, he did it with a welcoming spirit which earned the gratitude of those whose lives he touched.

While at college, David Brooks wrote a smart-aleck parody of WFB's book Overdrive and when Buckley came to the University of Chicago to deliver a lecture, he said
“David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I’d like to offer you a job.”

That was the big break of my professional life.
Buckley’s greatest talent was friendship. The historian George Nash once postulated that he wrote more personal letters than any other American, and that is entirely believable. He showered affection on his friends, and he had an endless stream of them, old and young.

Peggy Noonan writes May We Not Lose His Kind.
Buckley was a one-man refutation of Hollywood's idea of a conservative.... Bill Buckley's persona, as the first famous conservative of the modern media age, said no to all that. Conservatives are brilliant, capacious, full of delight at the world and full of mischief, too. That's what he was. He upended old clichés.
With the loss of Bill Buckley we are, as a nation, losing not only a great man. When Jackie Onassis died, a friend of mine who knew her called me and said, with such woe, "Oh, we are losing her kind." He meant the elegant, the cultivated, the refined. I thought of this with Bill's passing, that we are losing his kind--people who were deeply, broadly educated in great universities when they taught deeply and broadly, who held deep views of life and the world and art and all the things that make life more delicious and more meaningful.

Larry Perelman, American born son of Russian Jewish refugees when 18 wrote to Buckley to thank him for emboldening Soviet Jews to come to this great nation and asked for the opportunity to express his gratitude by playing for him.  Fourteen years later, he had The Last Supper with WFB on the last night of his life
it was just like any other Buckley dinner — i.e., it started with cocktails and ended with cognac.

He knew well that he was the most important person in my life after the two people who had actually given me life. I will cherish hundreds of memories of his boundless acts of generosity, which changed my life forever.

Christina Galbraith, daughter of Evan Galbraith, WFB's best friend,  writes in Ember
He was a truly kind man, genuinely caring to anyone in his company. His kindness was not for show. It was discreet. He drove an hour every Sunday to take his house staff to Mass in Spanish; he opened his home to practicing musicians and supported innumerable young scholars.

Ed Capano, former publisher of the National Review,  tells of his perfect charity
He practiced what I consider perfect charity: doing things for others that no one knew about.  The Vietnam vet blinded in action who wrote to Bill asking if NR came out in Braille. NR didn't so Bill did the next best thing, he helped the vet get some of his eyesight restored by flying him to N.Y. and having a personal friend who happened to be one of the best ophthalmologists in N.Y. examine him and then successfully operate on him. Oh, and the vet married the nurse who took care of him. Or the time at a cover conference when I told him that a house I liked just came on the market and he asked me if I was going to buy it. I sheepishly told him that I couldn't afford the down payment.  A few days later his secretary brought me a personal check from Bill for the down payment with a promissory note to pay him back whenever.

"The Sacred Elixir of Life" and  Facing Death
Bill was philosophical — or better, religious — about death. His gleaming eyes, when I last saw him, seemed, at times, to look beyond you; it reminded me of what Robert E. Lee said of his own gaze in his last years: “My interest in Time and its concerns is daily fading away, and I am trying to keep my eyes and thoughts fixed on those eternal shores to which I am fast hastening.” Bill knew that he, too, was hastening towards those shores, as, of course, are we all. Not for him the megalomaniac egotism of Stalin, preposterously trying to bargain with the creator he had denied. Bill thought deeply about death; how else could he have achieved such a surpassing mastery of the obituary notice, that form which, in his hands, was not only a minor art, but also a means of understanding the value of life, even though it is lived in the shadow of death?
Bill taught us much about what Auchincloss called “the sacred elixir of life.” In the last lines of his elegy of his wife, he taught us, too, something about how to die. He spoke then of the condolence he received from “a confirmed nonbeliever,” who for once would have liked to be mistaken, and hoped that, “for you, this is not goodbye, but hasta luego.” Bill said: “No alternative thought would make continuing in life, for me, tolerable.”

Charlie Rose's moving appreciation of William Buckley who talks about  growing older and facing death.

A longer Rose tribute here where he realizes, "There is not always a tomorrow."

Andrew Malcolm at the LA Times gives us a private memory of WFB

And, Buckley recounted, instead of the outside scenery, he ended up that night in the dark cockpit watching instead his dying friend in admiration, still excited, still himself, exulting at the world's beauty as he came down slowly for a landing at the end of a long trip.

Then, Buckley looked at me and took a sip of his drink. "I hope at the end," he said, "I come in for my last landing the same way."

And so he did, after a last supper that started with cocktails and ended with cognac, he went to his desk to write and there he was found the next morning, that great generous spirit gone.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:10 AM | Permalink

February 26, 2008

A call for solidarity: "No believer should die alone and abandoned."

So spoke Pope Benedict XVI when he received participants at an international congress entitled: "Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects."

In keeping with the teaching of the Church for centuries, the Pope Strongly Condemned all Forms of Euthanasia.
Death", said the Pope, "concludes the experience of earthly life, but through death there opens for each of us, beyond time, the full and definitive life. ... For the community of believers, this encounter between the dying person and the Source of Life and Love represents a gift that has a universal value, that enriches the communion of the faithful". In this context, he highlighted how all the community should participate alongside close relatives in the last moments of a person's life. "No believer", he said, "should die alone and abandoned".

The Holy Father called for time off so that relatives could  care for the terminally ill.
"A greater respect for individual human life inevitably comes through the concrete solidarity of each and all, and constitutes one of the most pressing challenges of our times".

"The synergetic efforts of civil society and of the community of believers must ensure not only that everyone is able to live in a dignified and responsible way, but also that they can face moments of trial and of death in the finest condition of fraternity and solidarity, even where death comes in a poor family or a hospital bed".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:56 AM | Permalink

February 23, 2008

The Tears of Abraham

Does the promise of eternal life deny the reality of death and help us escape from grief? Is faith an evasion, a psycho-social narcotic developed to avoid the pain of loss?

The Tears of Abraham by R.R. Reno in First Things .

If we turn to the Bible, then we will be surprised to discover that, in the primal history of humanity, death seems to evoke no strong emotional responses.

But something odd happens. With Abraham comes the promise: land, prosperity, and the immortality of countless descendants. ...for the very first time in the Bible, we find a scene of mourning. Abraham enters her tent and weeps over his dead wife (Gen. 23:2).
Thus the psychological paradox of faith: a belief in God’s promises heightens rather than softens the existential pain of death.

Faith blocks this easy deliverance from the afflictions of loss. But with hope comes more than heightened affliction; it also stiffens our resistance to the power of death. Abraham does not weep forever. The pain of loss has brought him low, but he “rose up from before his dead” (23:3). Stricken by the power of death—what could be more powerful we often wonder?—he straightens and prepares himself for action. He goes to the local chieftains. He wants a burial place for Sarah, a place to put her “out of my sight” (23:4)

“Out of my sight!” It is a shocking thing to say about the body of a loved one, but it is a sentiment repeated in the Bible. Jesus chastises one who would follow him but wishes to delay on order to bury his father. “Let the dead bury their dead,” he says (Matt. 8:22, KJV). The principle is not general, as if Christ came to abolish the law (both natural and revealed) that compels children to mourn for, bury, and remember their parents. Rather, like Abraham who rises from his distress, those who follow Christ must recognize that even as death continues to crush life, it cannot control the future. “O death, where is thy victory?” asks St. Paul with haughty confidence in the power of life. “O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:01 AM | Permalink

March 21, 2007

The Blogosphere's Irish Wake for Cathy Siepp

As of 7:45am this morning she is still breathing and pulsing but is passing peacefully.
— Maia Lazar, her daughter on Cathy's blog.

Almost 600 comments and counting.  If you read her and loved her writing as I did, please add your own

Sissy calls it a Blogospheric Irish Wake for a beloved free spirit and, stopped short by the news of Cathy's impending death, spent the day reading tributes "which were like a river at flood tide".

I wrote about her in The Upside of Cancer in 2005.  The upside?

One is that you can put the fear of God into people with hardly any effort at all,
and The other advantage is people reveal themselves to you as they really are – it’s almost like a solution for invisible ink.

I met her only once at the Pajamas Media inaugural in NYC.  She was small, thin, blond, with a glass of wine,  greeting one blogger journalist after another with warm smiles and big hugs and still kind and welcoming to me, who didn't make the first cut, but was just another groovy blogger

Mary Madigan quotes from her Normblog profile

Norm: What would you call your autobiography?
Cathy: For many years as a journalist who spent a lot of time interviewing people, I imagined writing a book or column called What About ME and MY Feelings?!?. But now that I have a blog, that's handled.

Norm: What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Cathy: I've always been a big believer in the importance of kicking your own ass. That is, forcing yourself to do what you don't necessarily feel like doing at the time.

She wore discount and offended fashion editors in the "bitch pits" on both coasts, called a young women a  "girl" thereby shocking the panelists and audience at a Times Book Festival, thought that health insurance should be unbundled from employment so people could take responsibility for themselves as she herself did with the government providing only a safety net, pointed out that Mean Old Republicans Care, skewered the media for its self-important pompous moments, wondered why in California child molesters and sex offenders were a protected class ,  pricked the Hip Hypocrites who claim to support free speech unless they disagree with it, defended C.S. Lewis against those who called Narnia, sexist, racist and intolerant,  all while battling lung cancer and she never smoked!

Life's not fair and she will be missed.  The only comfort is the imminence of her arrival at the pearly gates will be heralded  by the ululation by all the bloggers acutely conscious of her last moments on this side, her transitus, her passing over.

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January 6, 2007

An Awareness of Death

Each of us would do well the cultivate an awareness of the  death so as to do those necessary things to make the future lives of our children and  easier and to live our lives more fully and gratefully.    While we should do this, not enough of us do.

The people who do so on a regular basis  are those men and women in our military service..

Here's what J.B. Smith wrote, A Soldier's Thoughts

I went to Iraq prepared to die. A former soldier called out of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), I was a supporter of the war and ready and willing to do my part. I got into decent physical shape, signed my medical waivers, and volunteered for the job of training Iraqi Troops and taking them into combat. I had no illusions as to the potential price I, or my wife and 2-year-old daughter might have to pay. I made my burial wishes known and wrote about 50 letters to my daughter, dated and spaced to guide her through the challenges which I knew would come in life. I made peace with the plausibility of my death, content in my knowledge that our mission was critical for the ultimate stability of the world and the best course available for American security.

When my daughter was 26, she would finally receive the letter explaining my attitudes towards the war and how I felt about my death. This is the phrase which I believe best captured it:

"In order to secure the American people, democracy had to be spread to the region because democratic governments are far less prone to going to war and they are far less prone to internal strife and violence. The process couldn't help but be messy, but it was necessary. Obviously, I don't know how this experiment works out, but you do. If Iraq is a democratic nation now, or if Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi, Kuwait, or one of the others has become democratic, then the war was worth it. However, if we pulled out because we lost too many soldiers and got out in an act of political expediency, then I did die in vain."

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May 15, 2006

In the time allotted us

The time allotted to us is analogous to the shutter of a camera; it opens with our birth, allowing in the small amount of light we must work with before it closes and the universe vanishes. With that light we must enter our "dark room" and develop our conception of existence--what we are, why we are here, and what is our relationship to the whole. There are pneumagraphs laying around that others have left behind--scripture, books, images and institutions. Some of them were successful in capturing the Light, others only darkness visible." --

One Cosmos: Salvolution History

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April 17, 2006

Standing on Holy Ground

I was feeling so yucky after the last post, that I fell upon In a Holy Time like a long, cool drink after being in a desert.

Genelle Fadness has suffered 13 yeas with multiple myeloma, a progressive cancer of the blood, and is reaching the end.

So what's to laugh about?

Life, she said. "I live in the abundance of God's love, and this has been a long, rich journey."

Cancer "has made life and faith more immediate and vivid," she said.
A sense of the sacred enriches her days: Living in the shadow of death, "you stand on holy ground," she said.
"Life is rich no matter what "
Even on her most vulnerable days, she prays, meditates, writes poetry and reaches out to others. She also has become a mentor to others facing cancer, helping them through the sorrow and anger that she says can cripple the understanding of their experience as profound, even holy.
What matters is how we spend our time caring for one another.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:42 AM | Permalink

March 9, 2006

Gordon Parks's Remarkable Life

When I was a young girl, I eagerly waited for the new Life magazine to come out when I could become entranced with the photographs, falling deep into their mystery.

   Parks Boy With Junebug

Gordon Parks was one reason why. His death at 93 leaves behind a Great Legacy of photographs from around the world.

He helped me understand the spirit of the civil rights movement .

  Parks American Gothic-1

From the Washington Post obituary by Wil Haygood, "A Conscience with a Lens"

in 1942 he aimed his camera at a woman no one had heard of by the name of Ella Watson. She was a cleaning lady with a thin, haunted face. She was poor as nickels. Parks once said the photograph said as much as a picture of a cross burning.

From the NY Times obituary by Andy Grundberg, "A Master of the Camera."

Mr. Parks's years as a contributor to Life, the largest-circulation picture magazine of its day, lasted from 1948 to 1972, and it cemented his reputation as a humanitarian photojournalist and as an artist with an eye for elegance.

Elegant and cool, he took fashion images and portraits of the famous, wrote his memoirs and directed movies. Richard Roundtree, the star of "Shaft" said "There's no one cooler than Gordon Parks".

His obituary from the Associated Pres by Polly Anderson quotes some of his wisest words.

"I think most people can do a whole awful lot more if they just try," Parks told The Associated Press in 2000. "They just don't have the confidence that they can write a novel or they can write poetry or they can take pictures or paint or whatever, and so they don't do it, and they leave the planet dissatisfied with themselves."

  Parks Hbo Documentary

Largely self-taught, Gordon Parks tried everything and we are the beneficiaries of his work.

When asked why he undertook so many professions, Parks told Black Enterprise "At first I wasn't sure that I had the talent, but I did know I had a fear of failure, and that fear compelled me to fight off anything that might abet it. I suffered evils, but without allowing them to rob me of the freedom to expand

He gave some 227 photographs to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. He donated the rest of his archives and memorabilia to the Library of Congress. "I wanted it all stored under one roof and a roof I could respect."

In 1998, when an exhibit of his work began traveling around the U.S. called Half Past Autumn, he told Phil Ponce from the NewsHour on PBS.

I feel at 85, I really feel that I'm just ready to start. There's another horizon out there, one more horizon that you have to make for yourself and let other people discover it, and someone else will take it further on, you know. You discover it. Somebody else takes it on. But I do feel a little teeny right now that I'm just about ready to start, and winter is entering. Half past autumn has arrived.

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February 28, 2006

Pre-death visions

The unseen realm or how science is making room for near-death experiences beyond this world.

Jennifer Hammargren was told by doctors that she had only six months to live. As a patient facing death, much of the knowledge she acquired preparing to be a hospital administrator seemed less important than preparing spiritually for her future.

Given what she calls a "reprieve," Hammargren not only didn't die, but she uses what she learned through the process of preparing for her own death to help those who are in the last stages of life. As a local chaplain for VistaCare hospice services, she's watched thousands of people make the transition from life to death.

She sees a definable pattern of behavior in patients who are dying, much of it involving a "life review" that includes making amends with family and friends and a process called "faith questioning." As patients examine their religious beliefs, or the lack of, they come to define what "spiritual" means for them — whether specific beliefs or simply the love of nature or laughter. Hammargren believes those personality traits are part of each person's spirituality.

Once patients come to a deeper spiritual understanding, they often begin to "see" people in the room whom they don't know, sometimes children who "visit" and may not speak. Some describe people they are not related to but who they think they may have known when they were young, she said. Others describe relatives they don't know personally but have heard stories about. Still others describe visits by favorite pets.

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February 20, 2006

Joan Didion on Grief

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

"The Year of Magical Thinking" (Joan Didion)

No one writes with more clarity about the country of grief than Joan Didion.

On magical thinking.

I was thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to reverse the narrative, change the outcome. In my case, this disordered thinking had been covert, noticed I think by no one else, hidden even from me, but it had also been, in retrospect, both urgent and constant.

How could he come back, she asks, if she gave away his organs, his shoes?

"Bring him back" had been through thoes months my hidden focus, a magic trick. By late summer I was beginning to see this clearly. "Seeing it clearly" did not yet allow me to give away the clothes he would need.

She explores attitudes towards grief, quoting first Philippe Aries who noted that about 1930 there was an revolution in accepted attitudes toward death. He wrote

Death, so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar, would be effaced, would disappear. It would become shameful and forbidden.

Then the English social anthropologist, Geoffrey Gorer who observed the contemporary trend "to treat mourning as morbid self-indulgence, and to give social admiration to the bereaved who hide their grief so fully that no one would guess anything had happened."

Thankfully, Didion had Emily Post whose 1922 etiquette book

turned out to be as acute in its apprehension of this other way of death, and as prescriptive in its treatment of grief, as anything else I read. I will not forget the instinctive wisdom of the friend who, every day for those first few weeks, brought me a quart container of scallion-and-ginger congee from Chinatown. Congee I could eat. Congee was all I could eat.

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November 22, 2005

With Death Before My Eyes

I am a huge fan of Brother David Steindl-Rast, having listened to his audio tapes of his lectures on Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. Still a monk who lives at the Mount Saviour Monastery in New York, he's co-founder of the Network for Grateful Living.

In a very apropos interview this week of Thanksgiving in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brother David shared his story.

Tell me a bit about your personal story. Why did you become a monk? Have you always felt that calling?
When I lived as a teenager in Austria under Nazi occupation, I never expected to reach the age of 20. Friends and schoolmates a few years older were drafted, and a year later they were dead. The draft age was set lower and lower, and I was coming closer and closer to it. But then the war was over, and life stretched out before me like a mountain meadow full of flowers.
Just as I was having a great time with a girlfriend, music, dancing, hiking and even a little more food than is necessary to survive, a realization suddenly hit me. It hinged on a passage from the
Rule of St. Benedict, a sixth century classic. It simply said, "To have death at all times before one's eyes."
I had been living like this for years -- with death before my eyes -- and now, in a flash, I realized that this was the reason why my life had been a happy one in spite of all dangers and hardships: Against the background of death, I had clearly seen life as the gift it was.
It was clear to me now that things could only go downhill from here unless I continued to live with death before my eyes. Since I had come across the idea in a book that inspired 1,500 years of monastic life in the West, I concluded that I would have to become a monk to be truly happy.
After more than half a century as a Benedictine monk, I'm glad to say that I was right. My intuition was also correct: Having death at all times before your eyes is central to the life of monks -- not only in the West but also in the East, as later I found out. Having death before our eyes never allows us to take life for granted. And so you could say that the essence of monastic life, of spiritual life in general, is gratefulness.

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November 7, 2005

Blessing Ahmed

A rose amidst the ashes. A beautiful story of the family of a 13 year old Palestinian boy who had been shot dead by IDF soldiers who mistook his toy gun for a real one.

The parents decided to donate the organs "for the sake of peace between the two people". Ariel Sharon invited the father to meet with him and accept his apology and his gratitude.

Ahmed's heart has been transplanted into the body of a 12 year old girl.
Ahmed's liver was donated to a six month old baby and a 66 year old woman.
Ahmed's lungs will be donated to a 14 year old Cystic Fibrosis patient.
Ahmed's kidneys will be donated to a 5 year old boy and 4 girl.

An exceptional deed indeed and a Great Legacy. Many people are blessing Ahmed and his family today. You too will be blessed if you ...Donate Life. Hat Tip, Charles Johnson at LGF

  Donate Life-2

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:39 AM | Permalink

November 6, 2005

Body identified after 5 centuries

Finding a skull and partial remains in Frombork Cathedral in north-eastern Poland, someone had a hunch.

The remains were taken to specialists at the central crime laboratory in Warsaw for computer-generated reconstruction.


Putting together all the clues - age, reconstruction, known portraits and place where found, scientists are convinced they have found the body of Nicolaus Copernicus, father of modern astronomy, who died in 1543 aged 70.

Copernicus found

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October 25, 2005

She stood up by sitting down

  Rosa Parks

Detroit Free Press.
When Rosa Parks refused to get up, an entire race of people began to stand up for their rights as human beings.

This gentle giant, whose quietness belied her toughness, became the catalyst for a movement that broke the back of legalized segregation in the United States, gave rise to the astounding leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and inspired fighters for freedom and justice throughout the world.
People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.- O No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

The New York Times
For her act of defiance, Mrs. Parks was arrested, convicted of violating the segregation laws and fined $10, plus $4 in court fees. In response, blacks in Montgomery boycotted the buses for nearly 13 months while mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law that enforced their second-class status on the public bus system.

Dave Weinberger says
I was five when she refused to move out of the whites-only seats at the front of the bus. I was told that she was a humble Black woman who, after a hard day of work, was too tired to get up. In fact, she was a committed civil rights worker, a secretary in the Montgomery office of the NAACP where she recorded reports of racial discrimination and interviewed African-Americans with legal complaints. (I in fact was taught she was a white family's maid. Did those telling the story just assume that that's what black women do?)

It's a better story the first way, but why?
The mythic version is so powerful because of what it doesn't say. Obviously, the point wasn't that she was tired, that she collapsed in the seat and was physically unable to stand up. Presumably she was tired every day. The point of the myth is exactly that this day was like every other except for what happened in Rosa Parks' heart. On that day like any other, a woman like any other rose above the accepted condition. Like the first photo of the whole earth seen from space, Parks' refusal to change seats transformed our perspective

Rosa didn't have children but LaShawn Barber says

I suppose those she inspired to stand up to injustice were her offspring. Once people understand the power they have in a free country, the moral authority to demand justice, watch out.

The Washington Post

She was given the Medal of Honor, the highest award that the U.S. government bestows, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. More than 40 colleges and universities gave her honorary doctorates, and her name is cited in virtually every U.S. history book that addresses the civil rights movement.


In 1988 Rosa Parks said, ""I am leaving this legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die - the dream of freedom and peace."

Truly, a Great Legacy.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:08 PM | Permalink

September 24, 2005

Third Age Blog

I'm one voice in a group of talented people each with a distinctive voice, experience and expertise: Connie Goldman, Jacqueline Marcell, Jed Diamond, Lisa Haneberg, Rinatte Paries, Ronni Bennett, Sharon Whiteley, Susan Anderson, Susan Mitchell, Tom Blake and Yvonne Divita.

I write about many of the same things I do on Business of Life and Legacy Matters but often in a more personal way.

Until I can get me on of those doohickies that signifies a new post on another blog, I'm just going to periodically round-up a group of posts and link them here in reverse chronological order.

Rules of Life
Responding to Suffering
Make Haste for a Neighborhood Barbecue
Lessons of Katrina
Afraid to Get Prepared?
Intensely Alive While Dying
Why Can't We Talk About the Important Things?
A Gift of Stories
Good enough is good enough
Learning from Life

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:45 AM | Permalink

September 12, 2005

A River of Gold

From the American Digest, reposted, a personal memory of September 11 from Brooklyn Heights, seeing it all in real time and real space. Gerard Van Der Leun, The Wind in the Heights

In time, everyone had passed by as well and the street was empty except for the settling smoke. I looked outside the window where a small maple grew and noticed that its leaves were covered with small yellow flecks. I looked down at the sill outside the windows and saw the yellow flecks there as well.

At some point in the next few minutes it dawned on me that there would be no bodies to speak of found in the incinerating rubble across the river. I knew then -- as certainly as I have even known anything -- that all those who had still been in the towers had gone into the smoke and that, in some way, the gleaming bits of yellow ash were their tokens, were what they had become.

And I knew that all they had become had fallen upon us as we ran in the smoke; that we had breathed them in when the wind reached us; that they were covering the houses and the sills and the cars and the sidewalks and the benches and the shrubs and the trees all about us.

What they had become was what the wind without a storm had left behind. Now that it had passed everything was, again, silent and calm with the blue sky above the houses on Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights beginning to emerge from the fading smoke as the breeze of the harbor shifted the plume away from us and moved it uptown, into Manhattan, leaving the Heights again as an elite enclave, above and to the side of New York City.

The yellow flecks stayed like small stars on the surface of everything in the Heights for three days until the first rains came on a late afternoon to wash them away. I walked out into that rain and back down Pierrepont to the Promenade where for months the fires would burn across the river. The rain came straight down and there was no wind. As I walked down the sidewalk I noticed the rainwater running off the trees and the buildings and moving down the gutter to the drains that would take it to the harbor and the sea. And that water was, for only a minute or so before it ran clear, the color of gold.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:15 PM | Permalink

August 28, 2005

The Namesake

Don't miss this story by Gerard Van der Leun  the namesake of an uncle he never knew.  The Name in the Stone

Cut into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.

If you have an unusual name, there's nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a list of the dead on a summer Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don't really remember the feeling except to know that, for many long moments, I became suddenly chilled.

When that passed, I knew why my name was in the stone. I'd always known why, but I'd never known about the stone or the names cut into it.

"Gerard Van der Leun" was, of course, not me. He was someone else entirely. Someone who had been born, lived, and died before I was even conceived. He was my father's middle brother. He was what my family had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and genocide in the Second World War. He was one of their three sons. He was dead before he was 22 years old. His body never recovered, the exact time and place of his death over the Atlantic, unknown.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:02 PM | Permalink

August 23, 2005

37 Days

Patti watched her stepfather die of lung cancer just 37 days after being diagnosed.   

The timeframe of 37 days made an impression on me. We act as if we have all the time in the world - that's not a new understanding. But the definite-ness of 37 days struck me. So short a time, as if all the regrets of a life would barely have time to register before time was up.

And so, as always when awful things happen, I tried to figure out how to reconcile in my mind the fact that it was happening and the fact that the only thing I could do was try to make some good out of it. What emerged was a renewed commitment to ask myself this question every morning: 'what would I be doing today if I only had 37 days to live?'

It's a hard question some days.

But here's how I answered it: Write like hell, leave as much of myself behind for my two daughters as I could, let them know me and see me as a real person, not just a mother, leave with them for safe-keeping my thoughts and memories, fears and dreams, the histories of what I am and who my people are. Leave behind my thoughts about living the life, that "one wild and precious life" that poet Mary Oliver speaks of. That's what I'd do with my 37 days. So, I'm beginning here.

Her blog 37 days is a fine one.  Patti shows how richly  you can live when you keep the horizon line in sight.  And how much fun you can have.

Every week she writes a new essay with a Do It Now Challenge  Burn those jeans, always rent the red convertible, live an irresistible obituary, know the point of your life, find your own saxophone, and stand on your own rock

She's terrific, smart and wise and funny to boot, all while pondering the big questions.  Don't miss her.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:17 PM | Permalink

August 15, 2005

Always Go to the Funeral

Dierdre Sullivan says her father's greatest gift to her and her family was how he ushered them through the process of his death.

In a wise and moving piece on NPR she says,

I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.

The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. "Dee," he said, "you're going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family."

Sounds simple -- when someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.

"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.

On a cold April night three years ago, my father died a quiet death from cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the workweek. I had been numb for days when, for some reason, during the funeral, I turned and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes my breath away. The most human, powerful and humbling thing I've ever seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:53 PM | Permalink

August 12, 2005

Death Meditation

I write about death so much not just because I think it's one of life's greatest mysteries, but also because keeping the thought of death near the top of your mind is the best way to live your life in the fullest, richest way doing only what you think are the most important things.

I've quoted Steve Jobs earlier in Life's Change Agent.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself:  "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Evelyn Rodriguez quotes Jobs too and also Geshe Michael Roche who wrote what she thinks may be the best business book ever, "The Diamond Cutter : The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life" which I'm definitely going to read.

If you were really going to die tonight, would you sit and read through the whole Sunday paper, or most of the magazines you subscribe to? Would you really surf around the TV looking desperately for anything of even minor interest? Would you still go out and spend an hour or two at lunch or dinner, gossiping about the other managers. Decide then: If not on the day I die, then not now either. Because, frankly, it may really be today. -

In If Not On The Day I Die, Then Not Today, Evelyn writes about the Death Meditation.

To put it simply, you just wake up in the morning and stay there in bed, lying down, without opening your eyes. And you say to yourself: "I'm going to die tonight. What would be the best thing to do with the rest of my time?"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:09 PM | Permalink

July 25, 2005

Buy Red When You're Blue

Maureen Dowd pens a wonderful tribute to her mother who passed away last week.   

MY mom always wanted to be a writer. In 1926, when she was 18, she applied for a job at The Washington Post. An editor there told her that the characters she'd meet as a reporter were far too shady for a nice young lady.
But someone who wants to write will find a way to write. And someone who wants to change the world can do it without a big platform or high-profile byline.

Just an ordinary life made extraordinary when closing examined.

Mom was not famous, but she was remarkable. Her library included Oscar Wilde, Civil War chronicles, Irish history and poetry books, as well as "Writing to the Point: Six Basic Steps," and the 1979 "Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Satisfactions of Housewifery and Motherhood in the Age of Do-Your-Own-Thing.'"

She touches on small things.

Without ever mentioning it to anyone, she constantly wrote out a stream of very small checks from her police widow's pension for children who were sick and poor.

She didn't limit her charity to poor kids. When 6-year-old Al Gore III was struck by a car in 1989, she sent him a get-well card and a crisp dollar bill. "Children like getting a little treat when they're not feeling well," she explained.

She traces the arc of a life that spanned much of the nation's history.

As a child she saw the last of the Civil War veterans marching in Memorial Day parades, and as the wife of a D.C. police inspector she made friends with her neighbor, Pop Seymour, the last person alive who saw Lincoln shot at Ford's Theater. (He was 5 and saw the president slump in his box.)

She tells stories.

One of her big thrills came in 1990 when she went to the White House Christmas party with me and President Bush gave her a kiss. On the way home, she said to me in a steely voice, "I don't ever want you to be mean to that man again."

Stories that paint a picture.

As my mom lay in pain, at 97 her organs finally shutting down, my sister asked her if she would like a highball. Over the last six years, Mom had managed to get through going into a wheelchair and losing her sight, all without painkillers or antidepressants - just her usual evening glass of bourbon and soda.

Her sense of taste was gone, and she could no longer speak, but she nodded, game as ever, just to show us you can have life even in death. We flavored her spoonful of ice chips with bourbon, soon followed by a morphine chaser.

And tell life lessons.

I just know that I will follow the advice she gave me in a letter while I was in college, after I didn't get asked to a Valentine's Day dance. She sent me a check for $15 and told me to always buy something red if you're blue - a lipstick, a dress.

"It will be your 'Red Badge of Courage,' " she wrote. And courage was a subject the lady knew something about.

If you want to write about your parents, Dowd's tribute is a great example of how to do it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:09 PM | Permalink

June 27, 2005

Helen Keller

Born on June 27, 1880, soon to become deaf and blind, Helen Keller became a role model for millions.  Today is her 125th birthday and the American Foundation for the Blind is celebrating the life and legacy of this remarkable woman. 

No Pasaran has gathered some Keller quotes that begin to show why this woman is and was so universally admired and so many of her life lessons taken to heart.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.

We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.

All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.

As selfishness and complaint pervert the mind, so love with its joy clears and sharpens the vision.

Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart.

When one door of happiness closes, another one opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:02 PM | Permalink

June 20, 2005

The stuff of life is not stuff

Evelyn Rodriguez, one of my very favorite bloggers and a fabulous writer, in a post about her father says in a line I will never forget

"The stuff of life is not stuff."

The stuff of life is not stuff. Not the bigger house or the BMW or closing the next sales commission or jetting to the next overseas meeting. The stuff of life is in the precise unfolding moments with the people in front of you and the relationships themselves - the family that will play in that house or the son who will drive the car, the customer you'll share a drink with at the pub, or the taxi driver taking you to the convention in London. It's Father's Day.

I'm not saying to quit your job and run off to Varadero Beach. I'm saying don't postpone joy until the perfect fill-in-the blank - it's there right in front of you in every moment wherever whatever you are doing. If you wait to live, as Thoreau points out, the risk is that fire in you has long been snuffed out - unaccustomed to joy and thus unable to enjoy the fruits of your efforts - by the time you get there.

Don't postpone joy, it's right there in front of you.  Wise words from a wise woman.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:22 PM | Permalink