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Sleep Sweetly, Sister Death

Wretchedclose to death from the day of my birth… numb.

The words entered my mind unbidden this morning. I was not unhappy and I was not praying any more than I usually am. It was simply a continued reminder that death is here. I am happy, I am alive, my connection with death was snapped. And yet I am still, and always will be, a being toward death.

I was perplexed in college when I learned a bit of phenomenology because, at least as translated by my professor, I knew what I heard from Heidegger was pure Truth. And that was a problem since acknowledging what amounts to the victory and transcendence of Death is utterly opposed to the Truth I held in Christianity. But it was true. I knew that I was a being-toward-death in a way which was simply true. I was far form angsty or emo, but such was life. Others may have stumbled over Nazi implications, but I had to accept the fact that Truth was here articulated in a way utterly antithetical to my faith.

I lived with the questions of the contradictory Truths, though only for a short time. Adrienne von Speyr provided an incredibly clear synthesis a little over a year later. And I had an answer which I am confident will last for life: I am a being-toward-death-in-Love.

Somehow, a year or two after that, my awareness of living with death dulled to the point where it seems fair to say that my connection with death snapped. Somehow I was thoughtlessly alive the way that others are. I could reflect on it all and could not help being aware of it in some way, but death not only failed to embrace me, it was not inside of me, it was not my life.

I do not know whether marriage is indeed the sacrament of life. It is certainly oriented toward a happy shallow existence which mocks the self-absorption and profound isolation of death. But I must also be pragmatic. It is easier to be alive in the sense that requires the denial of profound truths when one eats and sleeps and goes through all of the motions of daily life in connection with another person who pulls one out of one’s thoughts into a discussion of a movie.

I think that I understand others, that is, what is normal. But I do not empathize with them. Instead, when I feel the shallow miseries of normal unhappiness (as well as the usual joys, of course) I cannot help but find the feelings odd. How is it that death has so lost me that I can actually feel these normal emotions? How amazing it is to be able to take one’s own despondency seriously! It is clever and childish and childlike and simply beautiful! Good God, am I truly capable of being genuinely trite? Such a gift. O Death, where is thy sting? Mwahah, not here today!

Death still is in me. On some days it enables me to live calmly with a grace that rivals that which we call peace. And yet, death is not me. I now find the formerly ever present thoughts–if you can even call them thoughts–of ways of ending my life odd. If some form of brining about my last breath occurs to me it is unusual enough to be surprising and worth really thinking about what has happened to trigger such a consideration.

I have planned for months to post about the very peculiar situation of losing connection with death. And I find myself a bit perplexed by the fact that I am not at all bothered to be reminded of its very real existence in me today. I know that it may return in full force and my short time of living in the way which we consider normal may be over in one glance toward the sky. But it does not feel that way. It feels as if I am alive, but death is merely poking through to remind me that it too is still me. Or in me? Or only my most significant inclination? Who knows how to describe it, but the notable thing is that it indicates integration far more than anything negative.

And so I say with a smile, hello Death. I do not care whether you choose to come back again or stay away forever. I acknowledge that I am a being-toward-death, but I am in-Love in such a way that it does not matter whether I spend this life conscious of my being-toward-deathness or not. Love matters, and Death, even though you are at my essence, you are not everything. I will live in whatever way I must and appreciate what I can when I can. If you return for real then I will no longer be able to speak so lightly, but for now I am too alive to fear you. I am too shallow to think of drowning.

Terrors do not reduce me to silence. I chatter. And I chat with Death.

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Philosophical Apology

Dear Mr. MacIntyre,

You know that I never liked your work. It was not your fault that I first encountered you through pompous “traditional” young men who had only read parts of After Virtue but still liked to cite you as evidence for the evil of modern Catholicism and feminism in particular. Once I actually began to study your work I quickly saw that they were wrong to imagine you as a champion of their conservative, I mean, “traditionalist” mentality. But in the development of your thought I saw a need to develop further. It seemed as if you did share something in common with the young men of my acquaintance: you loved to hate modernity and preached the superiority of that which was past, and thus could be understood differently (arguably more fully) than that which is still being lived.

I thought that you failed to see how judging liberalism as a philosophy today is much like judging Thomism while it was still being developed. If Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and John Paul II could all work with the philosophies of their day, why could you only insist that the main philosophy of your time was incoherent and useless?

When I read your argument against voting I saw only the thoughts of a man so privileged to live above reality that he feels no need to  stoop to choose the lesser of evils. I did not understand how not voting could be voting against the system. After all, not voting is typically only a vote for apathy.

I did not have much patience for your talk about not talking about the culture of death. Here you were, once again pontificating on how John Paul II used a dangerous rhetorical style and ignoring the substance of the issue! Even though I was supposed to be studying your thought I was much more drawn to the talk on Catholic feminism.

I could not help but like some of your thought, after all, I accused you of inconsistency. But I had already decided that you were no infallible tower of philosophical perfection, and there was nothing more to it. Nothing, of course, other than the nagging fear that you would get me eventually. After all, there are only so many noncommunitarian communitarians out there.

And then one day I read a great post on the contraceptive mentality. It was as good of a description as any that I have seen on the topic, but instead of “bravo” my fingers were inclined to type questions. What culture has not considered children in terms of economics? How is imagining that one has a right to children a “contraceptive” thought? Are we to imagine that Popes Paul VI and John Paul II were guilty of a contraceptive mentality when they allowed that one should consider the serious problem of population growth? Or that Pope Benedict XVI suffers from an inverted contraceptive mentality since he believes that population decline is a serious problem? How exactly can abstaining from sex in order to avoid pregnancy be a sign of a “contraceptive mentality” when the complaint is that this mentality separates sex from procreation? Why should considering sex as a base instinct be “contraceptive” when it does not in any way necessitate the separation of sexual intercourse and reproduction?

And then it clicked: I was rejecting the philosophy behind this post because I was accepting yours. You were right that  “moments of great rhetorical power are dangerous.” If one seeks understanding, then one must be very careful about how one characterizes a culture or mindset. And rhetoric is, by its very nature, more useful for drawing together an army than for gaining understanding of those around us.

Blast it.

I tried to think of other areas where I could still disagree with you, but all that I could come up with was that Dependent Rational Animals was not particularly well constructed. And I wished that I could have been a grad student working for you to help you improve a few parts of the manuscript.

I have known for a while that you were right about voting. Maybe not totally right since even if the third-party candidates are not good enough one can always find some potential philosopher president to write-in, right? But in terms of practical ramifications, you were right.

And, no matter how much I make myself believe that your book on Edith Stein is merely philosophical hagiography which shows more of your story than Stein’s, I still want to read it. Because I want to know your story, and I cannot think of a better way of learning it than to read it cloaked with the life of one of my favorite Saint Philosophers.

You win, Mr. MacIntyre. Thank you for making this one-sided fight possible. It did my mind good.



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