Saturday, November 5, 2022


Word of the Day

It is "ecstatic."  Not ecstatic as you would be if you were to win the Powerball, or if you had just thrown your hat in the air at the close of graduation ceremonies at West Point.  Ecstatic, rather, as St. Joan of Arc demonstrated herself to be on the pyre.

It's a very similar concept to "passion" -- not bodice-ripper passion but the Passion most classically of Christ -- a suffering, physical and emotional, so intense that it melds into a new form of bliss, and a new awareness.

In my life I have witnessed three people, all dear to me, as they passed through the "active dying" process.

In the one case, a case of brain cancer, he had been in a coma for some days, but there was, and I witnessed, a classic instance of "terminal lucidity," as he opened his eyes and spoke to my sister when he should not have been able to speak.

The second case was the terminal illness of that same sister.  She also became comatose, unexpectedly, as a consequence of an uncontrolled infection.  Before she lost consciousness she expected to recover; after she lost consciousness there was no hint, as far as I know, of her inner state.

The last case was a slow progression to death via cancer that metastasized to the bone.  He was, very close to the end, still able to hear, and even to speak from time to time with great difficulty, as if momentarily forcing himself to the surface while drowning.  It is in this case that I speculate that there may have been moments of such ecstacy.

Why does it matter?  It matters because it may offer a glimpse of our fate, a fate that notwithstanding the Complexity of It All resonates with the old time religion, with the man of constant sorrow who will meet us on God's golden shore, and with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Levon Helm who, during a long respite from throat cancer, sang with gospel-choir fervor that "the sun's gonna shine through the shadows when I go away!"

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