I can only answer that question with a question: Do you think that giving my lionhearted brother a "compassionate" needle would truly lessen our suffering, or his? By cutting short the process, do we step off the Via Dolorosa and avoid it all, or do we merely thwart a plan for our own lives? Should we steal from our brother the opportunity for him to reach out a hand and have it immediately grasped, to have everything about his existence affirmed, over and over?

Should we steal from ourselves the opportunity to love?

What has been gained here? Brothers and sisters and cousins and friends who had been supremely caught up in the seemingly critical issues of their own lives have brought those "important" issues to a screeching halt, and they have come together to help our brother, and each other, through these last months. We have all gained the understanding that our love for one another is not as buried as we had perhaps thought. We know, now, that no family or friends will be left behind. We know that if any of us become ill, our ordeal will not be a lonely one; we all understand that we have enormous value to each other. And we know that if life becomes difficult, no one is going to be "put down" as a matter of expediency. These days, that is a tremendous message.

We have witnessed each other's strengths and weaknesses and have learned to respect the one and forgive the other. We have gained knowledge of our brother that has moved beyond the superficial and headed into the supernatural. Along with the early pastels, we have used bold colors with him, because it is a bold and courageous thing to say, "Yes, I will walk this hard road with you, for as long as it takes," and not to go wailing off into the night, hands over the ears, pleading for someone to take it all away, and somehow to make love, and life, pain-free and easy.

We have learned that the strength to do things we never believed we could do resides within us. Or, as a better, and better-known, writer has put it, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

It is not a popular notion these days to be comforted by strength. Perversely, strength -- in matters both political and personal -- is seen by too many as something threatening and boorish, lacking nuance. But we now know we are strong, and there is tremendous nuance in that strength, because it is strength born of grace.

Living is not easy. Nor is dying. And the great paradox of love is that for all the joy it brings, it also brings pain. Love and pain cannot exist exclusive of each other, and joy fits itself, somehow, between the two.

It is said that God does not give us more than we can bear. That is not merely a pretty idea. It is, in fact, an answer to the paradox of love and a clue to how genuine indeed is the holiness of life and the limitlessness of human potential.

We have been trained in the secular world to disregard life as something holy and to understand that our human potential is inextricably tied to our personal freedoms and our domination over those uncontrollable matters of life: death, pain, and joy. This is a great deception. The truth is, just as human expansion upon the earth depended upon someone being willing to explore those uncharted waters marked, "Here be monsters," our human potential can only grow when it is open to exploring the Unknowable. The vehicle for that exploration is faith. If the monsters of life are pain and suffering, fear and doubt, moving through them is what leads to discovery, growth, and -- yes -- holiness. God does not give us more than we can endure, but we cannot ascertain on our own precisely how much strength we have.