By now most have heard about Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill 29-year-old who spent her final days advocating for death-with-dignity laws, took lethal drugs prescribed by her physician on Saturday and died, a spokesman said, “as she intended — peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones.”
I don’t have cancer or any terminal illness.
I keep thinking about her. Her family. Her loved ones and friends. I keep thinking about livability and the livable life. “What maximizes the possibilities of a livable life,” asks Judith Butler in Undoing Gender, “and what minimizes the possibility of unbearable life or indeed, social or literal death?” I keep thinking about living and dying, and the thin line between the two – how it’s not just a glass-half-empty-half-full kind of perspective. To couch it in these kinds of cliches dilutes and belittles it. Rose-colored glasses or any shade won’t change the universe of pain and suffering only each individual can really attest to in their own lives.
We watched and wondered, we waited as Brittany entered into a sort of limbo – a borderland, which I’m taking from Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands, a book recommended by someone who said that this was his bible, in a way. When someone says that about a book I take that pretty seriously. And, there is definitely something holy about the way Anzaldua talks about living on the border and crossing over from one culture back to another, and that this characterizes her living and dying. Brittany occupied these borderlands in her own way, moving through life and death, straddling both at times, and showed a mysterious strength in that journey through those thin places.
I’m thinking about how so many of us go through life not having a clue what it’s like on the other side of the fence in those other pastures or in someone else’s shoes. What it’s like to suffer violence and oppression at the hands of human beings or human diseases and illnesses. What it means to look at death through the lens of the compulsory sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? What it’s like to struggle with the meaning of choice and how in the end there is never really any easy choice, and the difficult ones are hardly ever between good and bad. They’re usually between choices that are somewhat the same – good/good, bad/bad, and the struggle lies in choosing and not letting it define all of who you are but then at the same time, embracing it, owning it, finding dignity and worth in the making of a choice.
Whether it’s Ferguson or Portland what gives us the right to dictate the terms of life – or death – for anyone?
Why do we tell people to not play God but we ourselves play God with people’s lives on a regular, daily basis? We cast judgment by doing hermenuetical gymnastics with God’s words and God’s grace to coerce people who think and choose differently. We guilt with words like shared suffering and courage and not giving up. We impose our life experiences – yes, that may have some similarities so therefore whatever kind of legitimacy – but in the end, each individual is a whole universe unto themselves, and that the right to choose life or death in the end is the work of something internal and beyond our grasp, so why, why, why would we try to subjugate someone else’s soul for the sake of an ideal – eternity, suffering, beauty, glory, love – we hardly understand ourselves? Why do we think that we can or should define livability for another person?
We are all living and dying in a way, we’re all pilgrims passing through this world, we’re all on the verge and threshold of eternity.