Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ethics Panel

At the request of an MD and Ph.D. at Porter's Adventist Hospital, today I visited an Ethics Panel meeting to see if I would be interested in serving on it. This would give me some inside exposure to the moral world of hospitals from the side of the doctors, chaplains, and nurses. I am interested in them, but they need to decide upon me in light of some other community folks outside of the hospital. We did an exercise with the famous "life boat" case. I don't think crisis ethics is the best path to moral wisdom, but it was fascinating to see how people considered the value of various human lives.

It goes like this: There are ten spaces on a life boat, but fifteen people who want to get on. You are given a short description, then asked to decide who should be allowed on. I voiced concern with the method of moral reflection, but said that volunteers should be solicited who would give their seat up; then children should be picked; after that a lottery should be drawn. I had never done the exercise in a group before.

I may not be asked to be on this panel, but I hope that I am. (I may have been too vocal at the first meeting.) God willing, I could contribute some analytical insights to the moral questions that they address and rub shoulders with some concrete moral issues on site. Let me know what you think of this.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spiritual Loneliness

Ever since Eden, mortals have suffered from alienations: from themselves and from others. This estrangement from the good, from benevolent relationships, traces back to our first parent's rebellion against God. Instead of resting in perfect love, they sought out more than enough. The result was banishment from the garden and the immiseration of women and men, boys and girls down through the millennia.

We are, thus, lonely--among other ills. What is the ontology of loneliness, it being and essence? Perhaps loneliness is the mode of being inadequately alone, of being apart when we should be together, of incompleteness aware of its state. We are separated from needful company and harmony. We are poor in ourselves and can find no one outside of ourselves take away our misery.

The chronically ill and their partners often suffer from an acute and aching kind of loneliness. It is both physical and spiritual in nature. Physically, those weighed down and laid out by one or more chronic maladies simply cannot have much fellowship outside of medical and physical necessities. You may visit a doctor (or three) this week, but you will not attend a play, see a film, or have a leisurely dinner with your husband. There is no time, no energy, and too much pain--or too high a cost to any outing. You may make it through, but you will pay for it for days or weeks. When I first met Sherri Connell (of The Invisible Disabilities Advocate ministry) it was outside and in the sun in downtown Denver. We talked for only about twenty minutes. She was pleasant and not bitter, but she said, "I'll pay for this for weeks." Sadly, I knew what she meant.

The partners of the chronically ill face their own separations. They are alienated from normal life, from vacations, from expected forms of life. They stay home when home is not where one may want to stay. They feel guilty leaving home alone, their loved one left behind. Yet they must do so from time to time. But even then, they are alone, for their loved one is not by their side. And even if he or she was there, this could bring its own frustrations: fatigue, sensitivities, arguments, curtailed expectations...

Lonely, lonely, lonely
Loneliness is such a drag!

So said a celebrity in his mid-twenties in the midst of a meteoric rise to fame in which he redefined rock music and the vistas of guitar playing. A man who was nearly worshipped by the masses, who had as many women as he wanted, who was the envy of guitarists worldwide, wrote that lyric. Jimi Hendrix, who would die from a drug and alcohol overdose not long after (1970) also said, "Everyone thinks I'm free; but I'm just running."

Running from loneliness often generates more of the same, just experienced at a faster pace. The wind may be in your face, but the ache remains in your heart. But I am not concerned about celebrities in this post, but those wounded by chronic illness. How can loneliness be met with grace and courage for us?

I really do not know. Some benefit from support groups of those facing similar problems. Others hate that. Why be around people with just my kind of problem? How depressing! Moreover, they do not find much within to offer others. Yes, thank God for friends who will offer sympathy and even empathy--listening to your woes although they have not experienced them and praying for you in ways that others cannot because they have never listened.

I do take heart that God himself understands. Jesus was utterly alone on his Cross, forsaken by both God and man. "My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?" He was more alone, more afflicted than anyone else ever has been or will be. This Jesus endured this for us. He knows from the absolute inside what loneliness is--utter separation of all that is good and life-giving. He died that way.

Yet Christ every lives for those who caste themselves on his matchless mercy. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." We must bank on that promise, no matter how lonely we may be or stay. The one forsaken and alone is now with us--now and forever.