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I’ve mentioned before that I’m an atheist, but I probably didn’t mention that I only became one when I was about seventeen. Until then, I was a Catholic.
I ‘came out’ as an atheist during my matriculation year at school. Back then, matric was year twelve, and your matriculation scores determined which university, and course, you would be offered. I matriculated at an all-girl, Catholic convent school.
The headmistress of the school was an amazing woman called Sister Philomena. She was not a cuddly nun. She was an academic in a wimple, and once she [and the local priest and representatives from the arch diocese] accepted that my claim was genuine, she did two amazing things. First, she allowed me to stay at school and finish my matric. Second, she allowed me to skip religion classes. This amounted to approximately half an hour of free time every day. I spent that time practising the piano in one of the music rooms. I’ve often wondered whether I would have passed matric piano without all that extra practice time.
The reason I’m boring you all with this ancient history is so you’ll understand that I’m still a committed atheist, but my ethics have their roots in the Catholic concepts of sacrifice, charity, compassion and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Those are the concepts I consciously retained after much questioning. I retained them because they gelled with who I was as a person. I still believe in them, especially the ‘do unto others’ bit.
In my not so humble opinion, compassion and empathy are the two greatest human traits. They are the only traits that make us worthwhile as a species. They are the only traits that balance out the greed and selfishness and outright hatred that always lead us to war.
Yet when I look at the world on this Good Friday, 2019, I see nothing but greed and selfishness and outright hatred in the West. The US, the UK, parts of Europe and Australia are all in the grip of a frenzy of ‘us against them’, and I can’t see a way out because each side is convinced they are right.
To be honest, I don’t see how I, personally, can compromise on the issues I believe in when the ‘other side’ is doing such awful things. I won’t name them, not today, but I will ask people on both the Left and the Right to stop for a moment and ask – is this how compassionate people behave? Is this how people who believe in a Christian god treat their fellow man?
I’ve never forgotten the parables I learned in school, and here is the one that I live by:
The Good Samaritan
‘”Love your neighbor as yourself” was part of the Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:18). But the Jewish teachers had often interpreted “neighbor” to include only people of their own nationality and religion. The expert in the law was looking to Jesus for justification for that interpretation, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told His famous Parable of the Good Samaritan.’
To the Jews, Samaritans were ‘the Other’. The lesson here was, and is, that we are all neighbours, and we all deserve to be helped. It is also a plea for compassion. Sadly compassion is in very short supply at this moment in time. Hypocrisy, however, is everywhere.
Part of the reason I became an atheist was because my youthful self rebelled against the hypocrisy I saw all around me. So called ‘good’ Catholics who went to church every Sunday, said their prayers and left a donation for the ‘poor’ and then went away convinced they had done their bit. Worse, they were convinced that they were so good, they were justified in lying and cheating all week.
Those people did not live their beliefs, they only paid lip service to them. They were also the first to speak out against any ‘other’ who was different. They did not do unto others as they would have wanted to be treated themselves.
Why? Because they were the righteous. They were the saved. They were entitled….
Now, fifty years on, I see the same sense of entitlement in many who consider themselves to be ‘good’ Christians.
This is not a post against religion. It is a post for the principles that religions are meant to be based on.
This Easter, we all need to ask ourselves if we are doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. If the answer is no, let’s do better.
I don’t consider myself to be a feminist – for a whole host of reasons – but sometimes my unfeminist heart does beat a little faster, and this morning was one of those times. I’d rung a local locksmith to fix my screen door, and who should arrive bright and early but a lady locksmith!
If I sound surprised, it’s not because I think women are incapable of competing with men in traditionally male dominated areas. Far from it. I’ve always known we could do it, I just despaired of ever seeing it.
But change is happening as attitudes amongst women themselves change. Not only was this lady locksmith polite, friendly and very efficient, she was also young and pretty but with a no-nonsense air that said ‘why shouldn’t I be a locksmith if I want to be one?’ And these days, she is not alone. Another young lady doing a blokey job and doing it well is a long time family friend called Holly. After completing a university degree, Holly found her passion in stone, becoming one of a rare few female stone masons here in Melbourne.
I hope that by the time I hit 90 there will be as many female tradies as men because I believe it’s people who matter, not gender. Gender is only one part of what makes up a human being. Important, yes, but not the most important part of what makes us human. To me there are only two types of human beings – those with compassion and those without.
I wasn’t going to do a post today, but when I saw this video clip on David Prosser’s blog I couldn’t resist sharing it:
For those who have never heard of John Farnham, you can find his Wiki entry here:
This particular song is from the album Whispering Jack and catapulted Farnham to the top of the charts for something like half a year. I bought it. Everyone I know bought it, and we listened to it until we knew all the tracks by heart. Why? Because it was and is an incredible song. But there was more to it than that. The Voice said something about what we believed in and who we were as a nation.
Things seem to have gone downhill since then as we now ‘sit in silence’ and watch our duly elected government ignore compassion, justice and the hope of the future in favour of…?
To be honest I have no idea what the Abbott government is in favour of. Before the election the buzz words were looking after ‘Australian families’ and ‘balancing the budget’ but they don’t seem to have done either of those things. Instead, they have managed to trash our reputation internationally while drumming up hysteria and hate towards just about every segment of our society. Oh and the economy? That’s going downhill as well.
-cough- Apologies. The Voice reminded me of who we used to be. The contrast with today is not pleasant. Now we seem to be afraid of everything – afraid of ‘boat people’, afraid of Muslims, afraid of gays, the list goes on and on.
We would do well to remember Frank Herbert’s Litany Against Fear :
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
I hope we aussies become that nation of fair-minded, egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, big-hearted, larrikins again. One day.
I’m sitting here with Golly in my lap. He is my brain damaged cat who made a miraculous recovery. Neither he nor I are in any danger of dying any time soon, but as I look at his trusting little face I know that someday I’m going to have to make a decision about the end of his life.
I have only found the courage to have one of my cats sent to sleep – in 30 years – and that was only about 6 years ago. It’s a decision that I find terribly hard to make, and so I procrastinate, hoping against hope for a miracle until it’s too late. Yet it’s not the process itself that sucks away at my courage, it’s the fear of the pain I know I will feel, when my furkid is gone.
Rosie was a gorgeous tortoiseshell cat with a personality to match. But she was already thirteen years old, and she was sick. I watched her, day by day, and I told myself that so long as she could find some pleasure in every day, she was not ready to go.
And then one day it was obvious, even to me, that the awful day had come. The vet had been warning me for a couple of weeks, but it was not until I saw Rosie staggering around in obvious distress that I found the courage to help her.
We are incredibly fortunate to have a gentle, caring travelling vet who will come to the house. I called the vet, and she came. I asked that Rosie be given something to ease the pain and make her drowsy. Then I asked that I be given the chance to hold her so she would feel no fear.
The vet inserted a thing into Rosie’s leg so when it was time the chemicals could be introduced to her body without any further trauma. And then the vet left, giving me half an hour with Rosie.
I’m crying now, remembering that moment, but at the time I locked my emotions away and just cuddled her in the big recliner. She was mostly asleep but I could feel how relaxed she was.
The daugher and I stroked her and talked about all the funny things she had done – like climbing up onto the roof – regularly – and then crying piteously for me to climb the ladder and get her down. Given that I’m scared of heights this was no small feat, and she made me do it at least six times before the then Husband put his foot down and said she was messing with my mind. She was. When she realised I wasn’t going to climb the ladder this time, she came down all by herself… and never did the roof thing again!
And so we reminisced, until the vet returned. She asked if we were ready. I think I nodded. I saw the needle go into the thingie in Rosie’s leg and then I saw the vet check her with the stethoscope.
There was a note of surprise, and relief in the vet’s voice. And then my tears came.
I wasn’t crying for Rosie, I was crying for myself. For Rosie, the end was without struggle or pain or fear, just a gentle drifting away. She knew she was safe. She knew she was loved. And so she just… let go.
But this post is not about Rosie, it’s about how we define euthanasia, for humans.
In all the talk about euthanasia, the language seems to imply that there is a ‘victim’ who is ‘killed’. This language has the effect of making people feel guilty – as if the person could live a much longer, happier life but is having that time cut short.
That’s a load of bunkum. What people with terminal illnesses are asking for is to have that last struggle eased so that they can slip away as gently as Rosie.
Make no mistake, dying is a struggle.
I sat with my Father for two days, listening to him struggle for each breath. He had a morphine ‘driver’ that automatically sent a low does of the pain killer into his body every hour or so. I don’t think he was in pain, or even conscious in a real sense, but at some level his body was still fighting to pull air into his lungs.
Comparing those two deaths that I have witnessed, I know which I would prefer. Yet for humans, that last act of love and compassion is forbidden. People with terminal illnesses can’t ask their loved ones to help them in those last awful moments because any such help could see those loved ones prosecuted. Doctors can’t help either, for the same reason.
So those who are dying have to circumvent the law. Worse still, because they have to be strong enough to take their own lives, they are dying too soon. And they are dying alone.
I truly believe that when there is nothing more to try, when the last treatment has failed, when nothing remains but palliative care, we, as a society should have the courage to offer the gift of a gentle death.
When should this gentle death be offered? When the person, and his or her family have accepted that death is inevitable, and imminent.
I’m not talking about letting people die months before they might die naturally. I’m talking about the days or hours before natural death, when the person is ready to go, but their heart refuses to stop beating. They are facing the final struggle and there will be only one outcome. That is when the gift should be offered. Not to kill, but to ease.
For me the difference between ‘kill’ and ‘ease’ is so huge I cannot put it into words, yet if this debate is ever to help the dying, we all need to see that difference.
I still hate the thought of anyone or anything that I love dying. That will never change. But Dad, and a small tortoiseshell cat taught me that death is inevitable. How we deal with death, however, is not.
To me, euthanasia is the gift of love.