When she called me with the news last night, my jaw hung open. I can always be surprised, after all... but this was especially brutal, considering my conversations of late on this very subject. Annoyance at the faithlessness of a man who would rather convince himself that his god had "cured" his diabetes rather than accept that maybe, just maybe, there was a REASON that he contracted diabetes. Something important he had to learn, some place he had to be in that he otherwise would not if he hadn't developed that disease.
By that same thinking I should pay attention to my own beliefs and how this impacts them. I don't think it really internalized until this morning, when I started to have a brief dream. More of a series of disturbing, disjointed imagery, really, all linked to the dissolution of a boundary condition that I had gotten more than comfortable with.
I woke up in tears. Literally crying, Roni holding me close and asking me if I could talk about it. I don't think I was able to articulate it very well (times like that make me appreciate my ability to write!), but I think I got the essential ideas across.
20 years ago this summer, my friend, Tony, committed suicide. He was on the machine 10 days before they declared him brain dead and unplugged him. He was about 21. As horrible it was dealing with his death, self-inflicted as it was, at least I was sure that un-plugging him was the right thing. I've always held to the idea that, once your brain's gone, the story is all over. However, similar to the way that events in my past shifted into a new light after I was diagnosed with ADHD, I now find myself wondering: What if, a few days later, he had awoken as well? Turn it around to this past week: What if they had unplugged Audra's dad a day earlier?
I know the past can't be changed, at least not in a substantive way. Tony is still dead, and Audra's father is, at least for the time being, alive. But the philosophical ramification of those two hypothetical situations are profound and disturbing to me. Perhaps it's a form of "Steam Engine Time", when that coin drops and you comprehend a possibility that has been staring in your face for ages, but you needed to be exposed to it repeatedly before you "get it".
The issue is that there now exists a gap...no, a chasm between my knowledge and my faith. I understood, medically, at least as much as a layman can, that boundary of death defined by the loss of brain function. Next to that was my faith, which sustained me in that vast unknown that comes after that point, for myself and others. Now, I find that I can't reconcile the idea that brain death may NOT be the final arbiter that we think it is.
Roni's was an excellent devil's advocate for this little intellectual battle. She pointed out for every "miracle" there are countless cases where people just linger on, day in, day out, merely existing. Yet therein lies that newly formed ravine in my thinking: What if brain death wasn't the incurable, intractable condition we believe it is? That the only reason so many remain in a coma, apparently "gone", is that we simply haven't found, or even considered the possibility, that it's a CURABLE condition?
She saw that as a pretty big leap of faith, and she's right... I'm taking that leap now, and like some thought experiment Evil Knievel I haven't quite made it over the Grand Canyon and am now flailing wildly in a spiritual free fall. The medical opinions of decades of experts completely counter the idea -- so much so I'm almost positive that there is probably not much in the way of neurological research to confirm or deny this hypothesis. Perhaps that's the most frightening thing at all: That we're all complicit in passively eliminating even the chance that the spirit, or spark of consciousness (whatever you call the thing that we think of as the self) may be capable of returning to the body because of this sense of "everyone knows". Just as "everyone knew" that surgery of the brain or chest cavity was impossible. Blood transfusion and transplants were impossible. So many things declared as impossible, yet are now medically... well, almost ordinary.
It's going to take awhile before I understand how much of an impact this is going to have on me. So many people I know (including myself!) Have declared that boundary as the point the plug is to be pulled. Yesterday I would have grieved, but not questioned the act. Now I would find myself questioning whether it WAS the right thing to do, and that shakes me to my core.