beauty fear

Spirit Animals and Suicide

6:00:00 AMEvelyn Hildebrand

My spirit animal is a sparrow.  At least to my midterm-crazed mind, sparrows equal freedom, a freedom that can fly and fly forever.  If the 1970s are any indication, I am not the only twenty-year-old senior in college who just wants to live life to the fullest.  While I'm not interested in drug-induced euphoria or free sex, I want the wild adventure that makes road tripping to California in a decked out, hippie school bus such a great alternative to finding a 9-5 job after college.

 What's the point of wanderlust?  Why drive across country just to feel the wind in my hair along Route 50?  Obviously, as a shameless adrenaline junkie, chasing that high would almost make the trip worthwhile.  Almost.  But at the end of the road, gallons of gas later, I would want to take away more from the miles than a memory. I would want those miles to impact me, to make me into a better person. Von Hildebrand describes this difference, the difference between chasing the high and changing the heart, in terms of value. 

According to Hildebrand, value is "an ultimate datum, in the same way as essence, existence, truth, knowledge."(1)  His description means that the value of an object does not depend on how useful, convenient, important or interesting an object is to us at the moment.  Picture that stupid bossman, driving from the passenger seat again.   Although to you he may be useless, inconvenient, unimportant and uninteresting, as a human being, he has a value completely irrespective of his frustrating incompetency, a value that we have to respect. 


On the other hand, whether or not an object is useful, convenient, important or interesting determines that object's subjective importance.  "Many objects assume a character of importance because of their suitability to appease an urge or an appetite in us."(2)  Subjective importance depends wholly on the person: what’s in it for you?  Picture a man dying of thirst in a desert.  As his thirst increases, the importance - read usefulness, convenience and interest - of water also increases.  

As human beings, we respond both to value and to importance.  Responding means altering our behavior as a result of an object.  Some responses are easy and natural.  Some responses are not.  Responding to water in the desert with gratitude is easy.  Responding to a terminal cancer diagnosis with courage is not.   
Twenty-nine -year-old Brittany Maynard faces terminal cancer.  According to her mother, Brittany is a wanderlust.  She "always liked exciting things, adrenaline rush, traveling."   Brittany's passion for the great outdoors brought her mother out of her comfort zone and into the mountains.  "She's kind of got me into this thing where we've agreed to meet. I'm going to go on a traveling adventure to this place I'm kind of scared to go to.  Machu Picchu.  A lot of climbing.  But she said she'd meet me there and so damn it I'll go."(3)

After being diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer, Brittany chose to apply for Death with Dignity, a legal physician assisted suicide program in Oregon.  She received lethal medication which she can take at will, enabling her to choose to die on her own terms instead of waiting for the end that her cancer will inevitably bring.

I identify with Brittany in many ways: her passion for the beauty of the world, her fascination with traveling, her love for those dear to her.  Her final decision is just so out of character.  Brittany has spent her life intentionally seeking out and responding to the value of the tremendously beautiful world, value that is big and beyond control.  Now, at the brink of this Grand Canyon of an abyss, Brittany is turning away, afraid.  
I do not blame her for being afraid, for feeling small and shivering.







***

Ultimately, values are bigger than we are, be they the Rockies, the Norwegian fjords or the Alaskan glaciers - or the human person.  Human life is valuable, bigger than we are, beyond our control. 

Responding to value means standing still and being small in front of something that is too big to put in a box.  Sometimes, that’s a scary spot to stand in.

I do not blame her for being afraid.  

But I want her to respond with courage.

I do not blame her for being afraid.

But I want her to respond with vulnerability.  

I do not blame her. 

But I want her to let the tremendous suffering she is about to embark on break her heart and mend it and make it bigger and more beautiful.  This is her last mountain and I want her to reach the summit.  


(1) Von Hildebrand, Ethics, 39.  
(2) Von Hildebrand, Ethics, 40.  
(3) "'I do not want to die, but I am dying': Woman explains agonizing decision," Fox 8 News Online, Posted October 7th, 2014, link
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