One of my favorite quotes of all time was uttered by a woman who lost her sight and hearing before her 2nd birthday. She was the first deaf and blind person to get a Bachelor’s of Arts degree. Along with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she developed Braille. By now you know who I’m referring to – the incomparable Helen Keller. More than most, she understands the fragile nature of humanity. She famously remarked:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It 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 outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
In four sentences, Ms. Keller punched a gaping, irreparable hole in the thin curtain of hope that keeps alive the fantasy pursued every day by the whole of humanity. The desire for security, stability and safety is not unrighteous, it’s just not real. Adrenaline is manufactured by the human body for a reason. If the possibility of danger and death were not genuine, why would we be designed with such a powerful hormone?
This post is not a nihilistic, “woe is me” rant. It is a reflection on what has been the most mortal three-month period in my life. I did personally flirt with death in 2004 and ended up in a coma, but mostly I slept through that frightful event.
The past three months are much different than my own near-death experience, because unlike the coma, I was the observer as two beloved members of my family faced death. My son, after two life-threatening seizures, is still with us. My mother, after an intense and pervasive battle with Stage 4 Lymphoma, is not.
These events naturally caused a variety of emotions and thoughts. For me, they illustrate the powerful truth of Helen Keller’s words. In our heart of hearts we all know that we are all too mortal. The eternal struggle of man is the battle for just one more breath. One more day. One more moment to do what we always wanted to do but were afraid to try.
As I think about it, I realized there are three areas (I’m sure there are dozens more but blogs are supposed to be brief and I’m already a repeat offender of blog length decorum) that are particularly entrenched in our collective psyche when it comes to security and its evil-opposite-side-of-the-same-coin, control. In pursuit of the illusion of security we embrace the delusion of control. How so? Read on, my friend, read on.
PARENT – CHILD
As I mentioned, I have experienced dramatic health issues in my family this year. The first vantage point, that of a child watching a parent die, has uniquely shifted my thoughts regarding end-of-life healthcare and the difference between existing and living. As my mother’s body stopped working, well-meaning physicians used every available tool and resource at their disposal to reduce her suffering and prolong her life. As my father, my siblings and I maintained a 24-hours-a-day, month-long vigil alongside her hospital bed, my objective mind silently calculated the cost of cancer treatment. I have heard many times that most of a person’s medical care expenses occur in the final months of their life, and Mom’s was no exception. In 2008, Medicare paid over 55 Billion Dollars for doctor and hospital bills that accrued during the last two months of patient lives. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-6747002.html
I’m not advocating a position here and I am a staunch defender of life, at every age and stage, but I couldn’t help but conclude once again that the illusion of security will drive you to embrace the delusion of control. By hooking tubes and electronic equipment to my mother, a sense of order arose. A false sense of security was transmitted by the regular routine of medication and care. Which is part of the reason why everyone was stunned when the doctors abruptly told us just four days before Mom’s body quit working, “there’s nothing more we can do.”
On the other side of the parent-child relationship, my son, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, had a prolonged seizure in the middle of Mom’s passing. It was unexpected, traumatic and unsettling, to say the least. He experienced a second one just a few days ago and is now on a daily medication which gives us some sense of hope once again – a vision of that mirage of security we long for as we cross the desert of life’s valleys.
I desire what every parent does. A healthy safe life for my children. But I can’t help wondering if we spend all our time and energy on health and safety, are we really having much of a life? We schedule and micro-manage every moment of our child’s lives. Bike helmets, car seats, knee pads, etc. All these things are helpful but if we are so ravaged by fear that we can’t let our kid ride a bike any further than the end of our driveway, are we maybe a little too obsessed with control?
A good friend shared this blog with me – I found it to be thought-provoking and helpful. If you think perhaps our kids could use a few more bumps and bruises and a little less bubble wrap and medication, check this out:
I was going to write about how we need to take risks in our careers and relationships but as I was typing this, I received the following text from a lifelong friend: “Hit by drunk and killed on the interstate. B. T. (initials changed for the family’s privacy), on his way to work. Married with children aged 4, 9, 18. Please pray for the family.”
I know this young man. He was 38 years old. We played sports together in high school. He was a bright witty guy with a compassionate heart. Because someone got drunk and got behind the wheel of a car, my friend’s kids won’t have their daddy reading to them tonight.
The illusion of security, the delusion of control.
We never know what can happen. Doesn’t mean we don’t work hard to protect the ones we love. Doesn’t mean we don’t exhaust our energies and resources to save a life. But it sure does mean live while you’re alive. Take a chance. Speak the truth.
All you’ve got is this moment. Make it count.