Post-mortem

Post-truth
Post-expert
Post-nuance
Post-fact
Post-mortem
Post-route map
Post-context
Post-democrat
Post-trust
Post-logic
Post-expat
Post-welcome mat
Post-satire
Post-hoc
Post-optics
Post-thermostat

For the Love of It

God is pressure;
Life is movement;
Will, attunement,
Conscience measured.

Light, its friction,
Shadow sifting,
Soul uplifting,
Love, its treasure.

Too much here

Be in the world but not of it
As matter fixed
Though spirit be not bound to here.

But, what, then, of the days
When you feel so much
Of the world and yet not in it,
That the spirit follows limit
Into hollowed ground to disappear?

Poetic Life

Today is World Poetry Day – “Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings.”

It is also Persian New Year – “Often in Iranian families it is traditional to open Hafiz, see which page of poetry one has opened and read it aloud and try to feel whether it has any omen for the coming year.”

 

‘The great religions are the ships, Poets the life boats. Every sane person I know has jumped overboard.’ – Hafiz of Persia

 

‘We are People who need to love, because Love is the soul’s life, Love is simply creation’s greatest joy.’ – Hafiz of Persia

 

I can identify with this divination practice, having done it many times over the years with various books. Of course, it is only as effective and relevant as one’s inner self allows – it can be taken lightly or seriously – and does not, obviously, remove one’s personal responsibility but it can bring a simple jolt to stale thought, exercise the imagination, caution Will, and inspire direction.

Kahlil Gibran is one of my favourite poets. Today, I opened ‘The Prophet’ with World Poetry Day in mind and this was offered:

‘Say not, I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.”
Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.’

 

Life is poetry. And how wonderful is that!

Light and Love
Be all withal
A call in every One
For by our hearts
We are the parts
Of Beauty’s greater sum.

[hex à triptych]

 

Assisted Dying: Whose Soul?

I’m all for a law which permits an assisted death. I’m also for ‘living wills’ to be legally respected. I’m for these on the principle of Free Will which, at the most basic level of physical existence, means the right to do with my body as I see fit, for me. If I make a ‘mistake’ then that is my consequence. Yes, probably we could get into an elongated set of what-if overrides – throwing your body in front of a train, for example: that obviously inflicts consequences on others, as does sprinting naked at your child’s school sports day. I’ve done neither of those, by the way. But, for the purposes of assisted dying – as with abortion – I am pro-choice. I think only those personally and directly affected have any right to try to effect a different choice. By persuasion, that is, not coercion.

I’d read and heard a variety of statistics and opinions on both sides of the argument and, last weekend, was about to write my own take on assisted dying when I read Desmond Tutu’s wonderful essay on the subject and thought why bother: no point in reiterating what has already been so well told. I didn’t disagree with a word of it. I contented myself with scribbling a bit of verse instead.

The debate rolled on, in the Press, on the TV and Social Media. The whole spectrum of opinion flowed. Well, I say spectrum but really it was pretty much a polarisation of those who, roughly, were: a) pro the right to an assisted death, either on principle alone and/or by direct experience of the fear and practicalities of a drawn out and painful end and, b) those who were against the principle entirely, based mostly on religious grounds and/or those of the slippery slope persuasion who may or may not be against the basic principle. It was harder to discern the motives behind the slippery slope what-ifs of the anti group beyond the understandable fear of this callous government and a justifiable lack of trust in Institution. The emotional/mental blackmail pressures of culture, family and friends notwithstanding, if this group had trust in State actors, those who at the moment feel vulnerable at the mere thought of this Bill being passed: would they still be against it? That question didn’t get air.

As you know, I, myself, also loathe and rather fear the potential of this government but I’m concerned, too, about the Human Right afforded by this Bill and the Tory future is nowhere near sufficiently guaranteed – however it looks in the near-term – to make me couch my life within a projection of their force-fed ideas.

So, the whole assisted suicide debate was depressing and reassuring by turn. I thought again to write something more than another blunt verse and then I came across Polly Toynbee’s excellent post. Again, I agreed with everything, from the merciful release to the financial aspects to the inadequacy of the proposed law. The requirement of having less than six months to live shows that this Bill, while welcome as the best shot yet, rather misses another justification for it, relevant in so many other scenarios – the unbearable suffering endured by those who don’t fit the “terminally ill” criteria, a point which has always been of equal motivation behind the desire for a law of permission. This Bill does not actually go far enough. Polly is one of a very few to point this out.

Anyway, between her and Desmond Tutu, (there were others) just about everything I would want to say was said. From his “what does it mean to be alive” question to Polly’s “we all stand on slippery slopes, if the alternative is to stand at an extreme at either end.”

What on earth could be left to express, then?

Well, this: Desmond Tutu is a man of Faith and Polly Toynbee is an atheist. As a consequence there is a gap that neither has addressed. The former because it would drastically reduce the hold that orthodox religions have on their flocks; the latter because the absence of belief in the notion of ‘god’ rather precludes the need for consideration, whether or not it is on her radar. The gap, however, is of great importance and, to me, it is glaring.

Just whose soul do the religious antis believe is of concern? Whose soul do they think they are saving and what makes them think they have an obligation or even a right to do so? Is it just their own individual souls they are watching out for or an anxiety for the soul of the individual making a choice they disapprove of? Do they fear that their own soul is at risk of collective punishment or is it out of concern for a collective soul; Humanity entire? Whatever, it’s utopian/fascistic, egotistical and surely impossible. To me, anyway. To believe that god holds one individual responsible for another’s act is to disregard Free Will. To imagine that God will punish us all collectively for our sins, à la flood is subscribing to a ‘creator god’ who is in control of everything and that negates Free Will. These are ancient hypotheses which provide no more certainty today than they ever did. Just as we can understand the concept of ‘Free Will’ as ‘autonomy’ or ‘sovereignty’ without getting distracted by a theo-philosophical discussion of whether it really exists, we can debate cause and effect and cultural changes versus moral decline without bringing religious doctrine into a discussion. It serves no extra help in the lawmaking of a secular society.

Besides, either ‘god’ is everything or god is not at all. If god is everything then we are all god(s) – parts of a sum. In which case, there are as many paths to ‘god’ as there are Beings and each can be responsible only for its own soul. Ultimately, then, it is ourselves to whom we must answer.

Minding the soul and free will of others is not what is meant by ‘brother’s keeper’. The Law, as made by humans may have jurisdiction over rule and punishment in the physical plane but no one has such spiritual jurisdiction over another individual. There is no such thing as vicarious atonement either. At-one-ment: “Middle English (originally in the sense ‘make or become united or reconciled’): from at one in early use; later by back-formation from atonement.” Our karma is our own to own.

Now, you don’t have to believe in any god to see that this patriarchal guarding of other people’s souls for their own sake is a major hook for organised religion and that, as Orthodox Religion has such a weighted voice of influence in the House of Lords, in this particular debate and in setting the terms of any potential law, the ‘sanctity of life’ must not be theirs to own and define beyond their own doctrine. Archbishop Justin Welby thinks that “true compassion suffers with all, including those whom we do not know or might never meet” and uses this like a race to the bottom chestnut to argue against the Bill. As though we all have to suffer together. He seems to have missed the nuances between compassion, sympathy and empathy. It reminds me of the way the Church has taken “the poor will always be with you” line as an inevitability that must be endorsed. Orthodox Religion depends greatly on it. So, although Religion is still a representative voice to many and has every right to advocate its interests and opinions, it has no right to claim a monopoly over Faith, itself, nor what is ‘moral’. Their belief is not the Authority. Not in Law. Not any more.

There is a chasm between immoral and/or unlawful coercion and healthy efforts at persuasion whose limits are recognised and respected. We can wring our hands and gnash our teeth all we like at some of the decisions of those we care about and sometimes – often, even – it’s agonising to witness their self-inflicted suffering but that, as they say, is Life. To knowingly coerce another into acting against his/her Will just because one personally believes s/he is making a wrong or ‘sinful’ choice, is quite wicked. To deliberately manipulate another’s Will specifically for one’s own agenda is a dark art. This Bill is about giving access to individuals to make a specific personal choice on his/her own behalf. No one else’s choice; no one else’s behalf.

On Doctors ‘playing god’- they do this all the time if you think about it. So do plenty of people in many other fields. The maxim: first do no harm must surely include a doctor not prolonging the suffering of an individual, especially if that individual is asking for help to make that suffering stop. We know that many do help already, within their current capacities. So, as with abortion when first legalised, even if many doctors are currently against this, there will also be those prepared to see this as midwifery at the other end of physical life and, therefore, part of a good health service. What is being proposed is not a law of compulsion but a law of access to an important, personal request. It is not intended as a replacement for other types of palliative care and it is not intended as a method of eradicating assisted living, both of which can and should be improved. Its purpose is just to make available another choice.

The debate is welcome and well overdue. The obvious concerns about safeguarding against abuse and pressure, of which we are all very aware and would all be keen to address, regardless of personal positions held: these are a vital part of making good, sound Law. While Welby is correct to say it “would be naive to believe.. that such pressure could be recognised in every instance”, that is the case with many aspects of life – the concept of marriage is not undermined because some people are forced into a marriage. And, no, of course I’m not suggesting a direct like-for-like comparison of circumstance.

Good, sound Law is always based on a principle and that is what we should debate and come to a conclusion about first. Creating a safe, practical method comes after. The principle is simple: Do you believe that you have a right to do with your body as you see fit and, if you do, do you believe that an assisted death, requested by a compos mentis individual who fits a legally structured criteria, is part of decent and compassionate healthcare? Maybe because, although you wouldn’t avail yourself of such a service you still respect that right of service existing for others who would; maybe because you already know you will need it one day and, just knowing you could get it would make each preceding day more bearable and may save you from cutting your life even shorter as you balance length of time with the dwindling capacity to end it all entirely by yourself; maybe because, although you’re fine now, that ‘just in case’ card is an insurance of enormous comfort.

Traditionally, we humans make a great deal out of respecting last wishes. We’re all going to die. But how? If I am ever so unfortunate as to want and need to ask for help to do so before Nature takes me, I hope my dying wish is at least respected by both the Law and my doctors.

Will Pit

Stop trying to save me!
Are your Will and conscience
Greater than are mine?
Are they more refined,
Correct, important,
Valuable or something?
Do you actually presume
To tell me your design for me
Is better than the one
My own Self does perceive?

For,
Is it not conceivable to you
That, as an adult, what I deem
Acceptable for me to do should
Be of no concern to you unless
My doing is a harm upon another?

And,
If that should be the case:
Aren’t you persuaded that the Law
Or ‘God’ would have more
Sanctionable right to punish me
Or stay my Will than you,
My would-be keeper?

Do you think my Soul is cheap?
That I could sell my rights
To my own path? That I’d be
Daft enough to offer shares in it
Or that I’d want to tread on yours?
I wouldn’t dare! I care about Free Will
Too much – yes, yours as well –
I wouldn’t dream to consciously
Manipulate a person’s state
For my own gain. Nor will I let you,
Through some misplaced fear
Or righteous indignation, win that game.

Condone or not – that’s up to you
But neither force your view or worse:
Make out you’re worried for my Soul!

I’ll check the causes and effects that
I collect as mine – for one alone, can
One atone – our karma is our own to
Own so you, pal: you should go, take
Care of thine.

The conscious act

A plea; a call to heed a wish
when needed
an assisted death
to ease; to hasten in
the last breath out
the fear and doubt
hysteria and moral shouts
to pit strong will against Free Will
as though the Law itself
bequeathed a killing field
of State or Person
rather than the conscious act
of mocking and abusing it
before or after the fact.

Waiting for God?

One day
We’ll cease asking
Why we are here
We’ll stop
Waiting for God
To appear
We’ll accept
That our existence
Is sufficient fact
That we just are
Is all
And the gods will live
Within us
Because
We remembered
What we are
And finished with this
Being small