EVA -- a parable    (2001)

“Eva, a patient who died of ovarian cancer in her early fifties, had lived an extraordinarily zestful life in which altruistic activities had always provided her with a powerful sense of life purpose. She faced her death the same way.... Many old friends had avoided close contact with her after she developed cancer. Eva systematically approached each one to tell them that she understood their reason for withdrawal, that she bore no grudge, but that still it might be helpful to them when they faced their own death, to talk about their feelings toward her.” (Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy)

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I was rereading Job, and then I began to imagine one of Eva's friends speaking:

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“No, I’m sorry, I’d really rather not talk.... Let me explain: -

“I agree with you that talking with you might better help me die well if
I develop cancer. However, I probably won’t develop cancer in the
next several years. Also, it won’t help me die well if I die suddenly
from a heart attack.
 

“At this time my main concern is, as it should be, to live well, not to
die well. How will learning how to to die well help me to live well?
Won’t it fill my head with things that people don’t normally think
about? And with whom am I going to talk about these things besides
you, and you’re not going to be here very long?”

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Then Eva expostulates: “Part of knowing how to die well is knowing
how not to think of sad or painful subjects all the time.”

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“But I’d still know I was not thinking of them, and I’d still feel separate
from others--just like you do. So you are asking me to choose between
a small probability of increased distress for a few months in the distant future
versus a large probability of loneliness and alienation from now on.

“You know the story of Prince Siddhartha. His loving father, having
been warned by a soothsayer, scrupulously kept all unpleasant sights
away from the palace grounds where the future Buddha spent his
childhood and youth. But one day Siddhartha disobeyed and, straying
beyond the walls, encountered a sick man, an aged man and a corpse.
The first thing he did was leave his wife and son without even saying
goodbye. Was the compassionate Buddha being cruel? No, he knew
that if they saw what was in his eyes they’d have no choice but to
follow him into the forest, and that it was not time for them to do that.
Then, his heart having been opened to the reality of human suffering, he
tortured himself with years of ascetic practices, struggling to deal with the
pain. He was like a child abuse survivor who cuts himself. Finally he
received a degree of enlightenment, began to live a healthy life, and
shared his experience, strength and hope with others. Did he reach an
Enlightenment so supreme as to make it all worth it? You and I
respect Buddhism but are not Buddhists--we believe his insights
were significant but limited.

"Modern science is now coming to the same conclusion as this ancient
myth: people need positive illusions and healthy denial. In particular,
they need an illusory sense of control. I’d like to believe that, unlike
you, I won’t get cancer because I’m honest about my emotions rather
than try to “kill them with kindness.” Talking with you might make
me change my mind, and my mind serves me well as it is.

“So let me now kiss you, and say goodbye.”

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Write me: morrisff@aol.com

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