Year 1, Week 15: Above the Clouds


A wonderful start to the week. We rented a car, went to a typical French market in Divonne (the usual collection of fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat and fish to die for), a nice restaurant, and then finally above the clouds to St. Cergue, seeing sun for the first time in over a week, with a wonderful view of Mont Blanc. When we used to live here, one of the charms of Geneva was that no matter how depressingly gray it was in winter, the sun (and snow) were only a 30 minute drive away.

Relearning how to shift gears was less difficult than expected, even in the switchbacks. We have become so lazy with automatics, even to the extent that my arm was sore by the end of the day. Not sure I would go back to a manual (not many cars offer that option anyway) but does make one more alert and connected to the road.

My mother-in-law’s operation went well. While, in the end, one of her lungs had to be completely removed, she should have a reasonable quality of life. She appears to be recovering quickly, and should be out of intensive care fairly soon. One big step – and worry – over, although we still have to wait for the biopsy results.

Visiting her in the ‘back rooms’ of the hospital was a contrast to the almost elegant, normal hospital rooms (wood laminate floors, wooden cabinets, and the famous menu mentioned in an earlier post – ‘un service hôtelier de qualité’). Intensive care felt like any Canadian hospital, clean but industrial linoleum floors, walls with scuff marks, and of course more equipment, pipes, and beeps than I am used to. But as we all know, quality of care is more important than esthetics (or menus), and we are happy with her surgeon and pulmonologist, who are her active doctors at this stage, and her overall care.

On my health news, phasing out some of my medication as the prescriptions run out. Septra (for pneumonia risk) this week, and the last of Prednisone (steroids), next week. After that, will only have one ongoing medication (Acyclovir) to prevent shingles, another milestone on my ‘new normal.’ Apart from a bit of stomach burbling, the ongoing phase-down of Prednisone is going without a hitch. Hopefully stopping it won’t change things.

I have been reading Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, a book reviewing and commenting on the various psychological insights starting with Freud and his successors. Pretty heavy going, and I find it hard to relate to a lot of some of the ‘complexes’ described in psychology (Oedipus, castration, primal scene, etc.). But the fundamental duality, the borderless world (at least in theory) of the mind, and the bordered reality of the body is powerful. Some quotes to give the flavour:

The fact is that this is what society is and always has been: a symbolic action system, a structure of statuses and roles, customs and rules for behaviour, designed to serve as a vehicle for earthly heroism. Each script is somewhat unique, each culture has a different hero system…. But each cultural system is a dramatization of earthly heroics; each system cuts our roles for performances of various degrees of heroism: from the ‘high’ heroism of a Churchill, a Mao, or a Buddha, to the ‘low’ heroism of the coal  miner, the peasant, the simple priest; the plain, everyday, earthy heroism wrought by gnarled working hands guiding a family through hunger and disease….

… this whole book is a network of arguments based on the universality of the fear of death, or ‘terror’ as I prefer to call it, in order to convey how all-consuming it is when we look it full in the face ….For behind the sense of insecurity in the face of danger, behind the sense of discouragement and depression, there always lurks the basic fear of death, a fear which undergoes most complex elaborations and manifests itself in many indirect ways…. No one is free of the fear of death….

Necessarily because the existential dualism [mind and body]  makes an impossible situation, an excruciating dilemma. Mad because …. everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate. He literally drives himself into a blind obliviousness with social games, psychological tricks, personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of his situation that they are forms of madness — agreed madness, shared madness, disguised and dignified madness, but madness all the same….

Personally, while we all fear death, I am not convinced that our life is as tortured or mad as described. Part of the natural process of growing up is understanding one’s place in the world and that our time here is limited. For deeper reflections on life, I find Frankl’s theory on meaning more convincing; to use Kubrick’s phrase, in an indifferent universe, we need to create our own light. And for practical day-to-day living, Kahneman’s work on how we think (or don’t!) is more applicable. But will finish the book to see what additional insights it offers.


One thought on “Year 1, Week 15: Above the Clouds

  1. Becker relies a lot on the writing of Otto Rank. Rank seemed to hold that our awareness of death is the price we pay for self-awareness, higher consciousness. He concluded that living life creatively was the only thing that made sense.

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