Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Brittany Maynard: The Failure of Our Generation

Let me start off by saying that this post isn't about trashing Brittany. It's not about how she's a failure, or that she's doomed to Hell because of what she's done. I call it the failure of our generation because it's our failure to help her understand and make sense of suffering that led her to choose death over life because life was going to be painful and death offered the promise of peace.  If our generation had not so blithely embraced and enshrined the notion that suffering is evil, perhaps Brittany would have seen her situation differently and would have found the courage she needed to choose life, even a life that was filled with suffering, as a better alternative than death.

She is quoted as having said, in regards to assisted suicide for the terminally ill, "For people to argue against this choice for sick people seems really evil to me. They try to mix it up with suicide, but that's really unfair, because there's not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying."

If suffering had no meaning, if it was just pointless pain, and there was nothing good to be gained from it, she would be right. It would be evil to force her to go through with it. It would be evil to force her to endure the pain, the loss of ability to care for herself, the helplessness that was her eventual fate.  Death would be the only logical conclusion. Why wait for the painful end when you can choose the end that's faster and less painful.

And our society has done an excellent job of painting suffering as just that: pointless and meaningless. We are willing to kill our children to prevent them from having to suffer. We invent potions and pills all to avoid any hint of suffering.  We turn our heads from the crucifix and our hearts from the images of suffering because we don't see it as useful or needed.  And because we turn away from suffering, we fail to see it for the beautiful thing that it is.

I feel sorry for Brittany.  She missed out on two of the most beautiful opportunities that life has to offer: the opportunity to experience agape love and to give it to others.  It is only in the middle of our helplessness, when we do not have a single thing to offer someone else, that we can fully experience agape love.  Agape love is selfless, unconditional love that is given not because there is anything to be gained but simply because the other person is.  That brain cancer was her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience someone giving her that kind of love in the middle of her helplessness and need.

It was also her opportunity to see herself on a level many people will never know.  It is only in the middle of our greatest suffering that we know whether or not we are capable of giving agape love, and to what degree we are capable.  Suffering is the mirror which shows us who we really are and what we are truly capable of being. That is the true test of whether or not we are capable of loving unselfishly because it is in the middle of our suffering that the choice to love unselfishly comes with the greatest difficulty.

It's easy to be nice to people, to be kind and generous, when everything is going your way and you are on top of the world.  What is tough is being thoughtful of others, of putting their needs ahead of our own, when our own needs are not met and every ounce of our body aches.  When a mother is suffering body aches and pains, yet goes to her child and manages to be tender and generous and thoughtful - that's true love right there.  When someone has lost everything they own, including their loved ones, and still manages to find it within themselves to reach out to others and lend a helping hand - that is true love.  Those heroic moments are only possible in the light of suffering.  

Brittany's story is sad not because she had brain cancer or because she died, but because she was given two of the greatest opportunities mankind has: to experience and to give truly unconditional love; and she threw them away because she didn't understand their worth.  That's the failure of our generation: that we failed to communicate the worth and the value of suffering and its role in love to our children.

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