Baby’s Funeral Part 3. Means vs Ends. Thoreau.

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Surprisingly, the most tragic part of the funeral was not the death of this baby girl but her life –or rather, how her father spent his life during her short one.  For the entire time that I’ve know Gavin (my husband’s best friend and the baby’s father), he has been in process of becoming a doctor.   During the funeral, he spoke at the pulpit, with a passionate and justified anger:

“I won’t swear, but because the medical system thinks it’s okay to work someone 90 hours a week in residency, I only got to see a time-lapsed snapshot of Amelia’s life.  There were days that the only time I saw her was when I poked my head in her room while she was sleeping.”

Gavin mourned not only the death of his girl, but the loss of her life.

I’ve written here about a similar idea that dawned on me when we first heard of Amelia’s death.  But hearing her father’s situation  (NINETY HOURS?!?!?!) broke my heart in deeper compassion for those that have lost — truly lost, a child.  Time gone cannot be retaken.

Gavin has $300K in school debt and a family to support.  This years-long life-overtaking that becoming a doctor demands is his choice, yet he likely feels very entrapped by it.  Is the end of being a doctor worth the means of losing each day of his childrens’ lives?

For those of you who are not entrapped, for those of you who are able to look closer than the end to re-evaluate your means, I beg of you, in the words of Thoreau, to suck all the marrow out of your life this day.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

― Henry David ThoreauWalden: Or, Life in the Woods

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The Author

I'm a closet atheist christian missionary. Paradigm shifts happen frequently for those who allow themselves to think critically about currently held beliefs and openly about new ones. I’ve developed the skill, or perhaps addiction, for change but the community around me is slow to catch up -- and would damn me if they knew where I stood.

9 Comments

  1. Tricia says

    This rings so true for me. For the last year I’ve been able to step back and view life for what it is: fleeting and worthy of living. What ends justify the loss of a life lived? Even if heaven is real, it seems such a waste to throw away this life. I’m glad I decided to pursue intentionality before losing my religion; it is making the transition much easier. Actually, it helped push me away from religion in a way. Religion encourages people to give up their life now to earn a better afterlife. “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is a dirty phase. But why? What’s wrong with living each day fully, instead of living a life where the only fulfillment comes from knowing you’re doing everything you can to “earn your wings?” I’ve just finished reading your blog from the beginning, and it chronicles an amazing journey. It looks like you’re already finding ways to embrace this life, and your passion for life is an inspiration to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thank you so much! I am honored and humbled to be an inspiration for you 🙂
      You bring up SUCH a good point:
      “’Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ is a dirty phase. But why?”
      So good, and I’ve never actually thought of that before. The idea of living life fully is in Scripture for goodness sakes. Why is it seen so selfishly??
      I think Christianity values self-sacrifice in an entirely unhealthy way.

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  2. That is so tragic. I had a similar fear when I had Moani last year. My husband did not spend the night in the hospital with me because I told him to go home to get some decent sleep. Two days after she was born, he was back at work. I stayed at my mother-in-law’s house so she could feed me. My first night at my mother-in-law’s house, and on the third night after Moani had been born, I was finally able to rest my head at 4 am, after Moani’s endless two minute naps. I was exhausted. I closed my eyes, but instead tears and uncontrollable sobs came. What if she were to die tonight? My husband would have barely met her, would not even know her. I had to make sure she made it through the night.

    Sacrifice is a necessary part of an honest life. Without sacrifice, we do not eat or feed our children; we do not shelter our families; we do not have security in case of disability or other hardship; we may not be able to enjoy our old age. We make sacrifices because we have to. We cannot escape some degree of suffering. While I would be inclined to feel bitterness for working the 90 hour weeks and never knowing my daughter, if I were Gavin (my father worked similar hours for the four or so years following my birth, doing his medical residency, and thus, I never developed an attachment with him or a relationship with him), I hope he does not develop this bitterness. Suffering and sacrifice are a part of life, but bitterness doesn’t have to be.

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    • I totally agree with you that sacrifice is necessary in life. Especially in order to make one’s current living situations better. But I’m just questioning more and more missing out on the present moment in order to prepare for a future moment?? Maybe I’m just not seeing the bigger picture of “what-if,” but I think I’m just tired of trying to live for a future life by denying my present life (sacrificing my lit on earth so I can have a greater life in heaven).

      Ps- I’m sorry your early days with Moani were tough. I had many crying nights in our early days with our baby girl. Maybe all new moms should have more support in America??

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      • Even though Mormons consider themselves “Christians,” I guess we still have some fundamental differences and viewpoints, so I may have difficulty relating or understanding what your Christianity was like. Or maybe we just view religion in entirely different ways simply because of our personality differences. So forgive me if I totally miss the boat.

        At least in my experience (or my interpretation of my religion), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t really focus on giving up things now for a greater life in heaven. I do feel like there is a focus on, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Of course, there’s an understanding that we should strive for perfection, but we will never attain it. I also, on occasion, hear people use the Celestial kingdom as motivation to make better choices, but it the next life doesn’t feel like the focus, for me.

        I think “merry” is different from “joy.” I think this scripture has relevance to this conversation:

        19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

        20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

        21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

        To some, this might mean “don’t seek riches because you can’t take them with you” or “materialism is fleeting.” To others, this could mean, “make all the sacrifices you can now so you can have a better life in heaven.” I used to donate plasma so I could have more spending money. I earned about $1000 doing it. I used most of it for things like chocolate and little treats so I would no longer have to deprive myself. I used about $300 of it to buy my husband’s friend a computer. I was thinking about that the other day, and the above scripture occurred to me, and I found a new meaning in that scripture (new meaning to me, at least). Two years later, or so, I feel no more joy because I bought chocolate or cookies for myself. If anything, I weigh an extra 5 lbs because of it. But I do get a good feeling when I think of my friend’s reaction when I bought him the computer. That joy and treasure, I can enjoy on earth and in heaven.

        We find joy in helping or valuing others and in spending time with family. I don’t know about mainstream Christianity, but valuing family relationships and spending time with them is taught a lot in my religion, and I hear this quote often: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

        Maybe you’re just unusually zealous, Teal. Maybe others have a harder time making sacrifices to help others, hence the focus. For you, maybe I would apply this scripture:

        “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”

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        • I always love your perspective. I find it fascinating that you don’t see your religion requiring sacrifice on earth in order to have greatness in heaven — maybe I misread you. But that’s definitely the first I’ve heard of that from any religious person ever. 🙂

          I love your quoted phrase: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home,” and I completely agree. I believe entirely that our immediate family (or those we consider family) is the most important part of our life here on earth. Investment into these close relationships is never wasted.

          What else stuck out to me in your comment was your example of how you used your spending money. I also agree that being kind and serving others brings more joy, perhaps, than doing selfish things. I’m not entirely sure where that line is, though I do agree with you despite my no longer believing that God is keeping track of those things. But I feel sooooo fragile when it comes to service at the moment, that I’m not sure how to respond yet. I know there will probably come a time when I will enjoy serving and being selfless. But for now, I want no pressure at all. I can’t describe it, but it’s like needing to be set free from something completely oppressive.

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  3. I completely agree. You need time, and you don’t need anyone pressuring you to do anything. If I understand you correctly, you have felt compelled to serve others all your life for a reward in heaven, or something. I would feel exhausted if I were you, having tried to please others (or the God you were taught about) all my life (forgive me if I misread you again). So I’m not trying to convince you to serve others; I’m just giving my perspective, and sharing what my religion believes (or as I understand it).

    Like we talked about a few days ago, even though you don’t believe in God anymore, I am really happy for you, and agree, to an extent, that your current perspective is healthier than before. Doing “the right thing” because of external pressures is almost pointless (except for the good it does for the people we help); it doesn’t really help US grow. And isn’t our own growth the whole point?

    I think other people are naturally more selfish and lazy than you, that’s part of the problem, haha. We have to constantly be pestered to serve, etc. For many of us, we are only motivated to serve when we find personal reasons to do so…and then we grow and blossom and find more and more reasons to be selfless. You are so proactive and industrious, that you readily serve…but because you’re human, you get burnt out. If you ever go back to a church, I hope you’ll remember you’re Human! 🙂

    To expound on my perspective that you mentioned in your first paragraph: I think it’s just a different focus. The ultimate goal is changing our motivations, not necessarily the acts of service themselves. (Don’t get me wrong, the acts of service are incredibly important, but the /most/ important thing is personal growth.) This talk by Dallin H. Oaks is quoted a lot at church, and I think it does a good job of explaining how we approach service, etc. I had thought that mainstream Christianity was the same…but maybe I was wrong, or maybe I still don’t fully understand their approach. Anyway, here are some excerpts from his talk to help explain my perspective (I just cut and pasted the main parts of the six points…there is a lot more meat in between in the actual talk if you need clarification):

    Why Do We Serve?
    Dallin H. Oaks
    November 1984

    What are some of the reasons for service? By way of illustration, and without pretending to be exhaustive, I will suggest six reasons. I will discuss these in ascending order from the lesser to the greater reasons for service.

    1) Some may serve for hope of earthly reward. Such a man or woman might serve in Church positions or in private acts of mercy in an effort to achieve prominence or cultivate contacts that would increase income or aid in acquiring wealth. Others might serve in order to obtain worldly honors, prominence, or power.

    2) Another reason for service—probably more worthy than the first, but still in the category of service in search of earthly reward—is that motivated by a personal desire to obtain good companionship. We surely have good associations in our Church service, but is that why we serve?

    3) Some may serve out of fear of punishment.

    4) Other persons may serve out of a sense of duty or out of loyalty to friends or family or traditions. These are those I would call the good soldiers, who instinctively do what they are asked without question and sometimes without giving much thought to the reasons for their service. Such persons fill the ranks of voluntary organizations everywhere, and they do much good. We have all benefited by the good works of such persons. Those who serve out of a sense of duty or loyalty to various wholesome causes are the good and honorable men and women of the earth.

    Service of the character I have just described is worthy of praise and will surely qualify for blessings, especially if it is done willingly and joyfully.

    …Although those who serve out of fear of punishment or out of a sense of duty undoubtedly qualify for the blessings of heaven, there are still higher reasons for service.

    5) One such higher reason for service is the hope of an eternal reward. This hope—the expectation of enjoying the fruits of our labors—is one of the most powerful sources of motivation. As a reason for service, it necessarily involves faith in God and in the fulfillment of his prophecies.

    6) The last motive I will discuss is, in my opinion, the highest reason of all. In its relationship to service, it is what the scriptures call “a more excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31.)

    …“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, … and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1–3.)

    …We know from these inspired words that even the most extreme acts of service—such as giving all of our goods to feed the poor—profit us nothing unless our service is motivated by the pure love of Christ.

    If our service is to be most efficacious, it must be accomplished for the love of God and the love of his children. The Savior applied that principle in the Sermon on the Mount, in which he commanded us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us. (See Matt. 5:44.)

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    • I like this list from Dallin H. Oaks. I definitely think most people serve for reasons 1-5, and many that think they are serving for 6 are really doing so for 5. Maybe I’m just jaded at the moment. It’s hard for me to even truly define selflessness. I think this is due to two reasons:

      (1) I feel overly protective of my choice and my personal freedom, both because of “Jack” and “Jesus.”
      (2) I feel betrayed (though never intentionally) by the motives of religious people. Or rather, I think religion deceives religious people into delusional thinking about their motives.

      I don’t doubt what you say. I’m just being overly general I guess.

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      • Yeah, I’m sure many people serve for reasons 1-5. I think loving with “the pure love of Christ” is difficult. I’m sure it comes naturally to some. But #6 is the ideal that is taught in my church, something that we’re all meant to strive for. But NO ONE is perfect, and we don’t expect anyone to be.

        As far as a “reward” in heaven, I don’t know what mainstream Christians think the heavenly “reward” will be, but Latter-Day Saints, as far as I’m aware, consider the “reward” to be the ability to continue to learn and progress. I’m not certain people will be “stuck” in the “level” of heaven they “land” in or what…I’m not sure how much scripture there is about that. I would have to check to know for sure, but I really don’t care enough to look into that. If someone gave me a reason to care, I would study that.

        I don’t blame you for not knowing how to feel about “selflessness.” Like I mentioned in your other post, your experience with Jack haunted me, and I didn’t even experience it for myself! It makes me feel so unsettled, I don’t even want to think about it to feel more empathy for you, because it is just too painful.

        I showed my husband some of your posts. He does this sort of thing for a living; he helps kids who have endured all varieties of abuse. Let me know if you ever want to talk with him. I think he has a gift for it.

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