The Burden of Autonomy

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God and I are organizing my mom’s memorial. God keeps writing rhyming poems and trite drivel. This surprises me. One might think God would be a more free verse sort of entity.

“Why are you doing that?” I ask. Rude, perhaps, but this kind of writing seems so constricted and sentimental.

“What’s an uplifting word that rhymes with death?” God asks, chewing on a pencil, ignoring my question.

The word comes out unbidden. “Breath,” I say with a frown.

And then I cry. For three days and three nights, her body breathed on. Brain stem at work, they said. So we waited, and read to her, and sat by her, and combed her hair, and rolled her body gently to and fro. We talked, watched football, played music, and sat. Sat with life as it fought to hold on, sat with death as it waited with us.

She would not have wanted to die that way, but then, she didn’t want to die at all. She wasn’t one to give up. Ever. Her favorite saying was, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Obviously, she wasn’t Buddhist.

“God,” I say. “Why did you keep her alive those last days?”

“I didn’t,” God says, surprised. “She did. You did.”

I shake my head but I know it’s true. God looks on while we ignore basic quality of life issues, and invent ever more life-prolonging machines, medicines, and treatments, and provide them selectively to those with resources. God looks on while we starve and murder, deny help, and blame the poor for their conditions. God looks on while some people rake in millions of dollars as providers of interventions, medications, or insurances, and others go bankrupt trying to save a loved one.

If God fell from scaffolding and broke up his body, would Worker’s Comp fight to minimize the costs of his rehabilitation? Would we deny him Medicaid? If God slipped on the marble floor she was mopping…if God got cancer as a child…if God…

God interrupts. “I did not invent dialysis, chemo, or the electric chair. You did. I don’t set bones, prescribe blood pressure medications, or do CPR. You do. I don’t distribute food, goods, or services—nor do I withhold them. That’s all you.”

“But what about “thy will be done” and all that?” I ask. “Aren’t the fortunate fortunate because of you? Aren’t the rich rich because you blessed them? And the healthy? Isn’t it your will for people to live as long as they possibly can?”

God’s eyes roll and she makes a gagging sound. “No,” she says, steely-eyed. “Absolutely not. I’m sick of being used as an excuse. My will is, frankly, for you all to get a clue. You’re so self-absorbed and short-sighted, I have to repeat myself endlessly. Mercy. Justice. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Translate those, would you? Your finite lives are your own. You have autonomy. You have choices. Stop blaming me.”

The weight of human prerogative pushes the air from my lungs. I have no reply.

“Breathe,” God says. “Breathe.”

7 thoughts on “The Burden of Autonomy

  1. Wow, Rita…!
    You really got me with this one. Every one of your transcribed visits with God have an impact on me, for one reason or another.
    This time, my heart breaks with you as I read your words remembering the last painful hours with your mom, helping her over that bridge between the life here and the (I truly hope) freedom of all pain and ugliness that exists only in the almost unimaginable There,
    Your words brought me right back to the final hours with my own Dad just a few years back when I, too had to say Goodbye, for now.
    Remembering the final hours of the most painful emotion that exists between wanting them here and letting them go, and realizing we ultimately cannot change the outcome. Acceptance happens but not without ripping our hearts out first.
    Tears form in my eyes as I type this because for me it truly was the hardest hours of my life, so far.
    For awhile, I cried a lot.
    A LOT.
    Over time, the memories (and emotions accompanying them) started a slow march to a less raw, less painful place that resides inside me. Memories are now more comforting. More beautiful.
    I still cry about the loss of my Father, but usually at silly times, when I least expect it, the simplest moment or memory can trigger a leak of the river that lives behind my blue eyes (which, by the way, ironically, were a gift from my Dad) So I don’t shed a tear now without feeling that each and every drop are a connection to him. A way we are forever connected, as if I needed a physical thing to remind me of him. Love is the connection that binds us, forever & always.
    For me, the pain of those hours has turned into becoming one of my greatest
    gifts. Realizing that those hours together, as difficult as they were, are moments that many are denied. The chance to touch, to talk, to say goodbye and even though my Dad was supposedly “not there” but his body was, I felt then and still believe today that he heard us, he felt us and understood that he was not alone on his journey. A chance to thank him for all that he had given us.
    I love that we got to share that, he and I. It will be one of most beautiful memories of him and will help me in my own journey someday. I am happy for you, too Rita that you shared that with your Mother. What a beautiful picture of two.
    As with many worthwhile things in this life, beauty is often intertwined with pain so I’m sending you, John and all those that loved your Mom, big hugs today in the hope that the stories from other survivors of life’s tragedies can help to ease the pain. We are all together in this big, beautiful, messy, sometimes even ugly world, but love and togetherness can offer hope and healing. May the best of your Mother live beautifully & largely, in you, always.
    Love,
    Julie
    (DAVIS-Whiteaker)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I missed my Mom so much while her body still lived that I had no clue how much I would miss her when the body had left as well. It took me time to remember the gratitude., which now connects me forever to her.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so sorry, Rita, it must have been so hard. But I, too, hold a mental image of you all talking to her and touching her, and I think this is what is truly meant to happen at the end of a persons story…everyone gathers and shares the wonder of their life, and the comfort of loved ones present and far away. I am glad you had that. You NEED this, to draw strength from and to use to translate her present absence into presence. Your gift of expression blesses me. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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