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02/22/2017

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A sadness like none other

Environmental destruction is sad, but very removed from superlatively so. The following may comport with number 4, above. (Apologies in advance for whining.)

I've lost both a young sibling to cancer, and had a child with cancer, now in remission. And yet, that sadness is not close to the following.
7 years ago, after the Fall term when the entire campus, during long Christmas break, was entirely shuttered to save costs, I drove to the airport to collect my son home from college. He did not arrive. Nor did he answer his phone for the next two days. I flew to Harvard and tracked down his dorm room, on the sixth floor of an enormous building--the dorm ("House"), was entirely abandoned save for one guard at the gate and a live-in house-tutor. When my son answered the door, my legs went out from under me. He weighed less than 100 pounds, had suffered a complete psychotic break--the first of six or seven subsequently--and quit eating. He was 24-48 hours from losing his life. I walked/carried him to the infirmary where the Dr. ordered us off to McClean, Harvard's psychiatric hospital. On the way to a taxi, he bolted. I chased him across Harvard square, and then knew the saddest moment of my life--Perhaps any life?--I caught him. He had been so healthy his entire life, and, given a certain rotundity, I could never run fast enough, until that night. The moment I caught him, I comprehended the depth of his illness. I restrained him, took him to a taxi, reassuring him without pause, "this is only for a routine evaluation", until we arrived at the hospital. After passing through a third set of double-metal doors, he looked at me and said, now realising his awful circumstance and the terror of it, "You lied to me." Again, a moment of incomparable sorrow. He was carried away by two guards. I spent the next thirty days alone, in a Cambridge hotel, paralyzed that his admission was permanent. Unfortunately, he recovered enough to be thoroughly self-aware of his incipient mental illness. Since coming home, he has had more psychotic breaks, yet is not so ill to be institutionalized for more than a few months. His medication perfectly stupifies him, but not so much to obscure the clear recognition that the medication has, for the foreseeable future, profoundly impaired his cognitive ability. He sits and chain smokes, with his head in hands, suffering from painful depression, that does not diminish. He perhaps sees that his life may well be a prolonged dying. I care for him 24-7, entirely without help from any other person, including his mother whose recently crafted fundamentalism justifies, to her satisfaction, her abandonment of him as so much detritus. "He's possessed by a devil. He smokes, drinks, doesn't believe in God, and has auditory hallucinations. I told him not to go to Harvard."

Few people know, I never imagined humanly possible, the bone-dissolving sadness of caring full-time for a child so ill that he is both crippled and protected by the medications requisite to prevent hallucinations, and yet is attentive enough to be thoroughly aware of his condition.

A reversal of fortune from a genuine portion of happiness to such heartache, can result from discharging a moral obligation and/or the "tragic flaw" of someone else. Aristotle could not admit that happiness and sorrow may be contingent more on luck than virtue, but his views, I think, are those of someone who has fortuitously avoided personal catastrophe.

The inexplicable cost of learning such sorrow as I have described, outstrips human capacity, both affective and intellectual. One hopes Kant is right that the resolution of such affliction warrants belief in the existence of a just God. If not by making the world more benign, then by reducing human affective capacity, one wishes God had reduced by 60-75%, the possible quantity of human suffering. It is not always obvious that reducing human love by an equivalent amount, is too high a price to pay.

Still, though a full-time care-giver likely for the next 25 years, I get to read, and, truth be told, I would never have learned deep empathy; I would never have learned, to the extent I have, charity--what it means to love and care for someone bearing the image and likeness--had I not been claimed by such stern obligations. Yet more than obligation, had love not such a claim upon me. There, ironically, is the dilemma: Wer liebt leidet. Wer liebt nicht lebt nicht. It may be that one lives to the extent he or she loves and yet to a greater extent than he loves, he suffers for it.

John Pepple

That's very moving. Thank you for sharing. It's certainly sadder than anything the politicized responders came up with to Quora's question.

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