Thursday, May 22, 2008


Ted Kennedy has been a prominent feature of the US political landscape longer than most Americans have been alive. The possibility, as suggested by recent medical reports, that he will soon depart the scene caused an acute spike in cable news coverage.

Old Bob Byrd, former Klansman who’s not afraid to waggle the Constitution at us, wept and declared his love for Teddy. Best friend Chris Dodd was visibly shaken.

Then Teddy left the hospital and the story went away.

The theme of most who spoke during the newsspike was “fight.”

“Teddy has always been a fighter.”

“Teddy’s gonna fight this, and beat it.”

So the story which was basically, “Teddy’s gonna die,” became “Teddy’s gonna fight.”

That way we can put off thinking about death.

Teddy’s seventy-six years old. Despite what my retiree tennis acquaintances say, seventy-six is plenty old, especially for a man, especially for one who’s had so much to eat and drink.

According to some third-party medical analysts, chemo and radiation can extend Ted’s life only a few months. Surgery appears futile.

So, what’s to fight?

Ted, if you don’t want to spend your remaining days as a patient, it’s ok.

It would be a great example to us rapidly aging boomers if you went the hospice route, abjuring the lopsided end-of-life expenditure of health care resources.

I think that for many terminally ill elderly, doctor visits, tests, and treatments gives them something to do, instead of just sitting around waiting to die. And Medicare pays…

Even for my mom, who was fairly hardbitten about such things, she got bored with hospice morphine and Atavan, and for a week or so wanted to know “what’s next?”

It wasn’t easy to tell her, “Well, death.”

The news this morning showed Teddy piloting his sailboat. The wind looked pretty good.

I’ve always been annoyed by our culture’s denial of death.

Death always comes as a surprise. Death is an aberration . Death is just a disease that medical science has yet to cure.

The dominant European religion tells us that we, as individual identities, live forever and that death is merely a transition from earth to heaven.

I was somewhat reassured recently to find this issue baldly mentioned by Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound.

We recall that in Greek mythology (religion) Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind. Zeus punished Prometheus by binding him to an isolated rock.

Lost to me, until my recent re-reading, was that Prometheus had given humankind another gift, referred to in Aeschylus as “blind hope.”

Prometheus: I caused mortals to cease foreseeing doom.

Chorus: What cure did you provide them with against that sickness?

Prometheus: I placed in them blind hopes.

Chorus: That was a great gift you gave to men.

Prometheus: Besides this, I gave them fire.

[Translation by David Grene, U of Chicago series]

As a gloomy pre-adult I questioned the value of living a life, with all its stings and sparrows, when death was the inevitable result. In short:

Why live, when you’re only gonna die?

Needless to say, these thoughts are not well received. Our tribe doesn’t need its members moping around, questioning the meaning of life.

It is painful for an individual’s brain to contemplate its own annihilation.

To live a life without blind hopes, neither fearing nor denying the temporary nature of one’s self, constitutes, I think, a worthy, maybe noble, goal.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a world without Ted Kennedy in it. Or sfwillie for that matter.

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1 comment:

sfmike said...

Or me, either.

I hear the right wing talk show hosts have been their usual sensitive selves, with Michael Savage in particular gloating about Kennedy's tumor. And I agree, forget the fighting and toxic therapies, and go with the quality-of-life checkout lane.