Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Isn't it a pity?

Isn't it a pity,
Isn't it a shame?
How we break each other's heart,
How we cause each other pain.
-- George Harrison

Grateful Dead's AOXOMOXOA album cover design by Rick Griffin

One morning in 2004, a hospital attendant was pushing my wheelchair on the way to St. Luke's Therapy Room for stroke victims when, turning a corner, I glanced at one of the rooms lining the corridors: the sign at the door said, "Renal Care Section." This triggered an avalanche of thoughts.

Having just survived an aneurysm then, my mood was on the timorous side, especially after I was told that a stroke can recur. I suppose my fatalism suffered a dent, though I never felt depressed, just a bit despondent, like fortune had turned against me, deflating the two aces I was holding in a poker game. The agony of defeat, the fear of further disability, the disarray of a life forced into indefinite hold -- all these were rattling in my mind when I saw the sign.

I was disabled physically, but my mental capacity to edit signs and meaning remained intact. "Whoa!" my mind was prodded by taser, "if stroke followed by expensive therapy is bad, how about the patients there?"

You get renal care when one or both your kidneys, sometimes for reasons left unclear, suddenly refuse to filter the waste out of your blood, threatening to end your existence by poisoning your inner organs. Dialysis for life -- in both senses of the phrase -- is not only painful and expensive but mandatory. In poker or even in stroke rehab, you just lose your money and time when you get a bad hand. But if treacherous fate deals you a pair of leaky kidneys, your life is on the line. The sand in your hourglass trickles faster.

With therapy, I can regain, even partially at least, my ability to walk (or hobble), and to learn to use my other hand. I get something back for the money and time spent. On the other hand, dialysis, twice or three sessions a month, means throwing heaps of money and not getting even; the kidneys deteriorate with every flush of the poison passing the vital organs. You are not regaining anything out of Renal, just buying more time that for you has accelerated, inexorably, without malice, without compunction. Diseased cells are immune to sentiments.

I felt sheer disgust, that such wayward schemes on life can exist with impunity, never to be edited or ameliorated. Pity? Pity is a virus that infects every malicious, malignant, and ignorant hypocrites of the species; it thrives in monsters that console themselves on the misfortunes of others, signified by their gratefulness that there are people whose pain are deeper, whose chances are less. For pity to exist, there must be an object of pity, a victim.

This is one of the main pillars of almost every religion practiced on this benighted earth. A Mother Teresa can only blossom on soils nurtured by the unlimited misery in Calcutta. I believe, however, that this benevolent woman properly bestowed compassion and aid, not pity, on the poor, sick, orphaned or dying. Compassion has no victim, pity has a congregation of saints in its trail. The difference between compassion and pity is vast. A Lorenzo Ruiz and other martyrs can only be blessed to sainthood only if other fellow humans are ordained to lives of evil, so that the martyrs
can be beatified.

In a world more kind and less bestial. there will be no saints who feel so much pity that they can forgive the transgressors who sped them to their biblical destiny. In a less superstitious, less fearful and more enlightened existence, there will be no forgiveness because there will be no transgressors. No sinners? Well, no saints!

That world exists in my imagination only, so religions are safe from sinners like me. Still I claim that the patients undergoing renal overhaul, add those confined in Oncology, are better rid of a wayward existence which dealt them deuce and treys, and let the foolish kings and jokers reign. Eventually I, who send them off with compassion, will follow them and bid good riddance to this hell on earth.

And I don't wish to meet the creator of this cruel absurdity. I prefer playing cards and drinking beers in limbo, with crooked cardinals and congressmen, than spending eternity flapping wings and playing harps with pious lawyers and hormone-gorged old maids.

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