Life Choices: To Hope or Not to Hope?

Today is Good Friday.  It is good, because even though this is the Friday that we Christians annually remember Christ on the cross, we also know that Sunday is coming.

I began writing my review on Things I've Learned From Dying  before the recent accident that left us all so heart broken and rebroken.  Up until that time, in the space of 3 1/2 months, my small circle of treasured girlfriends and I have grieved the passing of a cherished husband and pastor (Paul), and through our tears, we have praised God for the life of one of us (Lisa).  Both  had cancer.  Paul attempted radical treatment (the only choice really) for several years then discontinued treatment.  For almost seven years, Lisa fought for and received treatment until her body just could not take it any more.  They made completely different choices, but we respected both of their choices and loved them through their journeys.  For nearly seven years, this close circle of friends stayed in constant contact with text messages at any time, consisting mostly of:  How do you feel, What do you need, Pray for me, I love you, I need help! Praying for you!  We made it a priority to have what we called "Facetime" -- hard when you are busy working moms raising families, but we did it. Even our families are pulled into our friendship.  We made every birthday a big deal (even when we were a month late), and we prayed and cried together, but most of all we laughed and loved each other (and still do).  We lamented that we couldn't have Facetime everyday, and why oh why didn't we take more pictures?  So we were surprised at Lisa's memorial service just how often we did get together and remember to take pictures.  

We longed for "How to" books and never really found any, so we made our own path. That is what I want to share with you soon, what we did and what you can do when it isn't you and you want to help.

But even while this was happening to us, and while we have finally come to the end of this part of our journey, the same thing was happening in our community.  Many many leaders and loved ones have also passed away.  This is the way of life but it seems to have struck our community particularly hard lately.  

Then our world was rocked last weekend with the loss of more dear teenagers.  Lamar County is 50,000 plus strong, but I can't go anywhere without people needing to talk through our sadness and questions.    This review will not deal with all of that.  But at least maybe you'll understand what is going on behind the scene.  And maybe it will be of help to you in some way. 

Every life is different, but every death is the same. We live with others. We die alone. And what is important to this story is that the moment we die is not the same as the moment we are perceived as dead. Our lives end before others notice, and the time that spans the difference is the inverse of the grief your loved ones will suffer when you leave them behind.” 

 I have a signed edition first copy that I picked up during my visit to BookPeople earlier this year (click the highlighted bookname link above for your copy).  I also had the pleasure of hearing author David Dow speak about his book.  

When I was finally brave enough to read it, when I could finally face it, I couldn't put it down. The book is based on David Dow's journey through the representation of several of his death row clients, particularly one who really got to him, during a time that his father-in-law was going through his own cancer/ death journey and while his dog began dying from a mysterious debilitating condition. This book did what I love books to do:  it invoked many deep thoughts.

I felt drawn to read this because of my experience as an appellate lawyer, because cancer is one of  my (our?) holocausts with no answer, because I'm currently going through a season of great loss, and I know there will be other such seasons, and because I've also loved and lost pets, and while this is far different from the loss of a beloved homosapien, it still really hurts. 

Dow says:

 "Time does not heal all wounds.  Some pain becomes a part of who you are."

So true.

No matter how it comes, death is painful, ugly, impossible to "deal" with in anyway but the way through. I was one of those people who saw a good deal of death and dying from an early age.  Maybe that is why I am comfortable talking with many people about life and death.  But all of this experience does not make me special, nor did it give me super powers to deal with my own grief when the time came.  It just makes me pragmatic and open about it.  I don't see the point in hiding from it, because it is coming, one way or another.  I must look at it from every possible angle, over and over, even knowing I won't ever be fully satisfied with the answers.  That is part of why I have read the Bible, over and over.  It is why I have read so many books on the holocaust.  It is why I am starting to read many books on cancer.  It is why I will continue to read books about life and death.  I'm glad I added Dow's book to the read list.

On its surface, this book is philosophically heartbreaking regardless of whether you believe in the death penalty, euthanasia, cancer treatment, and God.  

The underlying theme is this: is there any point to hope?   The life celebrations of so many recently have shouted an affirmative yes to me. 

But here is Dow's father-in-law Peter's dissection of the argument:

"One drawback of being a scientist is I am aware of its hopelessness. If I elect to do nothing further, Irmi and I can drive out west. We can hike and camp and live. I can die on a mountain. If we remain here, I will die in diapers in an air conditioned room."

The question seems to be whether there is any point in the hope offered by cancer treatment. 

Peter thought no.   

Interestingly, Peter's daughter thought yes.  She chooses hope.

Here is one quote to prove it: 

"And so, just in case I had not heard her the first time, she looked into my eyes, and she said them again.  

You are getting another chance." 

Where does Dow fall in this spectrum, a death penalty lawyer carrying the weight of the crimes and lives of the world on his shoulders? Where do you?

I enjoy seeing life through other's experiences and opinions, even if they are different from mine.  Life would be very bothersome if we were all the same pesky weed.  But we aren't.  We aren't all going to agree on death and life and God.  The only thing we are all definitely going to do is actually experience life and death.  And we are all going to think about God in one way or another.  We are all going to have to decide if there is a reason for Hope.  Here is a quote from the Bible that was Lisa's favorite.   

"For I know the plans I have for you,” 
declares the Lord,
 “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future. 12 
 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, 
and I will listen to you. 
13 You will seek me and find me 
when you seek me with all your heart. 
 14 I will be found by you,” 
declares the Lord
“and will bring you back from captivity.[b] 
I will gather you from all the nations 
and places where I have banished you,” 
declares the Lord
“and will bring you back to the place 
from which I carried you into exile."

Jeremiah 29:11 -14 NIV

Lisa believed this verse through and beyond her dying day, and Paul did, too.  Through their own unique cancer journeys, Paul and Lisa both not only did not lose their hope, their hope grew and they shared it with many, many others in very real and non-judgmental ways.  Hope Now was and continues to be a mantra.

 Now, please excuse me while I enjoy a lament of Hope.  I like to sing this when I am sad.


P.S. Professor Dow, your son is brilliant.  Continue to be good to him.  :)

P.S.S.  If you are interested in learning more about the Texas Death Penalty system from the Innocence Project side, here is Dow's execution book.


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