Tuesday, January 6, 2015

encounter at the barber shop

Because I had begun to look like one of those cartoon cats that gets its tail stuck in a light socket, I went to the barber yesterday. One person was in the barber's chair and a white-haired fellow was waiting his turn while reading the local paper.

Since reading months-old magazines did not appeal to me, I asked the fellow who was waiting if I could take a section or two of the paper.

"Go ahead," he said. "I'm just checking the obituaries to make sure I'm not included."

It was an old-duffer's kind of witticism and I liked being in the company of someone whose age and outlook I might share. By way of passing time, I asked the fellow what he had thought of the newspaper's seemingly endless coverage of a woman who had planned and then executed her own death by not eating. The series was titled "Death with Dignity."

The question and topic didn't seem to make him squeamish.

"It's ticklish," he observed of the topic in general. There are so many varying circumstances (grinding pain, depression, immobility, etc.) attending on death that deciding to end this life has no single appropriate philosophy. He told me of a distant relative whose 19-year-old daughter had had a massive heart attack while jogging and for the last couple of years had been confined to bed ... a 'vegetable' who could not move or speak and whose parents were legally barred from a 'merciful death' option.

"Would she want to live?" he asked rhetorically. "No one knows or can know."

I said I liked the newspaper series because it said implicitly what so many are loath to express: This life is entirely yours. Laws, opinions, religions, etc. can all go suck an egg in the end. It's yours in success and yours in failure; yours in competence and yours in incompetence... even in a vegetative state.

An aging (or even young) person may not have much, but this life remains untouchable by others. That fact strikes me as important... and largely overlooked because so much of what went before has been made dependent on the outlook of others. Being responsible is lonely... and rather exciting at first. Later, perhaps, the obviousness settled down and made you wonder how or why you had ever thought otherwise.

Soon enough, the white-haired man took his turn and got his hair cut. I basked in a small conversation that had no real punch line or conclusiveness, but simply ended by circumstance with some line like, "to be continued...."


  1. Or not. It's said that you cannot fall out of the universe, but within the confines of your circumstances, your road, you try to steer. And with that, the option of steering out of the limitations of those circumstances, is still within your purview.

    I remember an image of a guy holding a gun to his head, while officers held guns on him. Maybe it was a Mel Brooks gag, a guy taking himself hostage. But if suicide is illegal, an attempted self murder, will the miscreant receive the death penalty? Death by cop certainly saves on court time, though probably hard on the cop involved.

    The entire debate strikes me as ridiculous if the individual desires to check out. Sign a consent form, pay the costs of disposal and and a contracted fee, and our expert staff will shoot you. Voila, a new taxable industry the NRA can get behind.

    In third party, vegetative situations, the doctor assigned and a second opinion strike me as sufficient to pull a plug. Sufficient to inject lethally should the body continue toward slow starvation.

    When my parents were dying of illness, they were drugged into insensibility, and lay there until kidney failure killed them. It seems to me in hindsight, that they essentially were made to die of thirst. That strikes me as more barbaric than being drawn and quartered, which would be faster. I have to question if they were insensible enough to not suffer, or were just made unable to complain. And no manner of assurance takes away my being pissed off about it.

    To discuss, or not to discuss, that's a silly question. But if common sense were really common, there might be fewer arguments. And if i were god, as an uncle used to say, among what problems might remain, over population wouldn't be among them.

  2. my mother's sister died last year, from metastatic cancer that was diagnosed after she'd spent two and a half months in the hospital (!!! - long story) - she had accepted a feeding tube which i urged on her early in her hospital stay, but after the diagnosis she declined more and more feedings, so she died sooner than she otherwise would have

    although later than she had planned - a polio survivor who had been kept alive in an iron lung when she got polio as a student nurse in the early 1950s, she was ventilator-dependent in the hospital this time, and set a date for disconnecting it - but backed away when that date arrived - just as well, i thought - although i was quite clear about the logic of "discontinuing artificial breathing assistance" NOT being euthanasia, there was enough similarity to make me uncomfortable with it, so her deciding NOT to go through with it was a relief to us - her dearest friend, as well as I, my wife, and my cousin and her husband were there at the appointed time - instead, she lived another month

    as for me, if i'm in charge of whether i'm fed or not at a time when my life is a burden, i starvation is the way to go - the jains thought of it as a sacrament