Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, April 25, 2016

No quiz, just a fond farewell (and an exam)

With Atul Gawande's touching final chapter and epilog relating his own father's demise, I'm reminded of a remarkable letter William James wrote to his father when he got word of a sudden downturn in the latter's illness... and that I read to my father in May 2008, four months prior to his anticipated death from leukemia.
We have been so long accustomed to the hypothesis of your being taken away from us, especially during the past ten months, that the thought that this may be your last illness conveys no very sudden shock. You are old enough, 
you've given your message to the world in many ways and will not be forgotten; you are here left alone, and on the other side, let us hope and pray, dear, dear old Mother is waiting for you to join her. If you go, it will not be an in harmonious thing. Only, if you are still in possession of your normal consciousness, I should like to see you once again before we part...

My dad may have entertained slightly greater hopes for a family reunion than I do. My own sense of the "afterlife" is best expressed by John Dewey's "continuous human community" and Sam Scheffler's Death and the Afterlife (excerpted in the Times philosophy blog): 
I believe in life after death.
No, I don’t think that I will live on as a conscious being after my earthly demise. I’m firmly convinced that death marks the unqualified and irreversible end of our lives.
My belief in life after death is more mundane. What I believe is that other people will continue to live after I myself have died. You probably make the same assumption in your own case. Although we know that humanity won’t exist forever, most of us take it for granted that the human race will survive, at least for a while, after we ourselves are gone.
Because we take this belief for granted, we don’t think much about its significance. Yet I think that this belief plays an extremely important role in our lives, quietly but critically shaping our values, commitments and sense of what is worth doing. Astonishing though it may seem, there are ways in which the continuing existence of other people after our deaths — even that of complete strangers — matters more to us than does our own survival and that of our loved ones. (Continues here... & here's Scheffler's Philosophy Bites podcast interview)
Dr. Gawande pere "always understood that life is short and one's place in the world is small. But he also saw himself as a link in a chain of history." He also understood what his son has helped us understand about "our job in medicine... to enable well-being."

But what most needs saying, on the occasion of our last class meeting, is something else James said. He was practically on his own deathbed, this time. 
"There is no conclusion. What has concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given.--Farewell!" (from A Pluralistic Mystic)
Good luck, Bioethics class of '16! Keep your health, do good work, return to this site whenever you like, post whatever you care to share, and don't be strangers. 

Image result for william james

"Keep you health, your splendid health. It's better than all the truths in the firmament."

Perhaps we'll meet again.

The New Yorker (@NewYorker)
Hear one activist's vision for a happier, more affordable alternative to nursing homes, on@NewYorkerRadionyer.cm/4uOPKOi

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