No doubt by now you’ve heard about the woman at the California independent living home who died after a director of the facility, who was also a nurse, refused to perform CPR, and you have probably heard the tape where the 911 operator pleaded with the nurse to give the woman CPR after she stopped breathing. According to the woman’s family, she chose to live in a facility without medical staff and wanted to pass away without intervention to prolong her life. And it turns outs that ‘No CPR’ policy is common at these places.
Nonetheless, it is hard to listen to that 911 call and imagine how it is possible for someone to just stand by and let another person die. And if the woman didn’t want to be saved, then why did they even call 911 in the first place? I don’t get it.
There’s many things about health care and the medical profession I don’t get. Like, I don’t understand how my doctors could just ignore me for nearly 3 months and drop the ball on the surgery that I needed. My cancer certainly didn’t ignore me. It has probably gotten worse and I will find out just how much worse next week when I finally meet with my physicians to discuss the results of the CT scan I had yesterday.
I guess the moral to both of these stories is that sometimes you’re just on your own.
It reminds me of something in John Blofeld’s forward to Alone With Others by Stephen Batchelor. I don’t know if Blofeld or Batchelor wrote it, but it starts like this:
I was alone at birth; I must die alone; and in a sense, I am always alone, for the gulf separating me from others can never satisfactorily be bridged.
Alas, death is life’s only certainty . . .
I am alone, and yet I am not alone, for I am together on this planet with trillions of living creatures, all as eager as myself for happiness, all as afraid of pain and sorrow as I am . . .
This description of aloneness, even with the caveat of togetherness thrown in, does not sound at all uplifting. More like a case of ‘misery loves company.’ It’s been many years since I read Alone With Others. As I recall the author tried to answer some big questions but I felt the best he could do is offer readers his doubts. Still, the title resonates with me because throughout my life I have often felt alone with others. I’ve spent a lot of time by myself, by my own choice, and then feeling lonely and lamenting it. But when I am with other people, I often feel like I don’t fit in and I just want to go off and be alone. I don’t know what that is indicative of, and not sure I want to know.
But one thing I’ve discovered is that having something like cancer is a sure fire cure for it. When your mortality comes along and slaps you hard in the face, it sort of wakes you up. I don’t want to be alone. I have a strong urge to reach out to others, to touch them, and be touched, to find a way to bridge that gulf that keeps us separate, the gulf that Buddhism says doesn’t exist in the ultimate sense.
Some of you might remember a song written by Harry Nilsson that went, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” Well, one is also a unity, the integer before two and after zero, and one can be multiplied into the trillions of other living creatures on this planet to whom we are inexplicably linked with in the web of interdependent togetherness. One is not alone.
I am not alone and neither are you. We are integers between others. The world surrounds us, just as water surrounds fish. We cannot escape the world. There is no place to be truly alone. In those times when I felt alone, it was only because I didn’t know or forgot that I am not alone. Now I realize that the need for aloneness arises from the delusion of self and the craving for selfhood, and I know that even while loneliness is dukkha, a suffering, it is also an opportunity, for it has provided me with the cause to break out of the shell of the self, so that I can be together with others.
Here I sit between my brother the mountain and my sister the sea. We three are one in loneliness, and the love that binds us together is deep and strong and strange.
– Kahlil Gibran
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