After the Killings in Chapel Hill

UNC_School_of_Public_Health

It’s less than forty-eight hours since Craig Stephen Hicks shot and killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill.

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It’s nearly four full days since Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot in the head.

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When they are not your children, you can turn your attention to other matters: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.

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The Collision

deerAll I saw of the deer at first was the eye: domed, amber and pellucid, set in a pallid furry temple. I saw that, and the briefest flash of a muscled flank as the deer charged from the trees and straight into the front right fender of my car.

If this were a short story, or a scene in a movie, this would be the moment when time would suddenly lengthen, stretch into slow motion: I’d have some kind of clarifying and revelatory last-minute realization. That’s not merely a literary conceit: I have experienced those moments when experience seems literally toculminate, the universe to distill to a point.

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The Sublime and Beautiful

sublimeFrom antiquity to the Enlightenment, one of the great aesthetic dichotomies involved the sublime and the beautiful. If the contrast of those terms is any indication of meaning in Blake Robbins’s movie of the above-referenced title, the intention is extremely subtle. The film deals with unspeakable tragedy, and one would be hard-pressed to find any conventional definition of either term as fitting for what transpires.

However, if they are taken not as terms to be distinguished, but as terms that inform a third object—due to an important excision of the second article “the”—there is more of an argument. That is, if the terms are taken as adjectives modifying a particular person or state—“that which is sublime and beautiful”—then you can see what he is after. Still, it takes some convincing.

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Ovarian Cancer and a Circumcised Heart

Unemployment (1909), Kathe KollwitzCircumcise therefore the thickness about your hearts.
—Deuteronomy 10:16

 

Her dying and death circumcised my heart.

For weeks, I knew only this: she’s on a lot of pain medication; she’s hallucinating; she’s in the hospital; she’s home; she has a staph infection; she’s in the ICU; she’s doing better; she’s in rehab; she’s in the hospital; she’s coming home.

How did I know the little I knew? Mother. She conveyed what they, my brother and sister-in-law, wanted others to know.

We knew.

We thought we knew. [Read more...]

Quitting the Cancer Battle

Dessicated Seated NudeI am not a hero. After my last post, some readers wanted to know how I arrived at my attitude toward cancer, which is to be found somewhere between a religious person’s submis­sion and the cordial host’s welcome. A better question—one my oncologist and I wrestle with at every appointment—is why most cancer patients tumble into a bottom­less slough of despond.

My intention is not to criticize other cancer patients. To be told that you have a disease which is going to kill you in the next few months or years is to be slammed by a violent and remorseless truth that nothing in experience prepares you for. At first you can’t even process what your doctor is telling you, because there is nothing to which you can com­pare the news in order to make sense of it—it is a monster from beyond your imagination. Denial, self-pity, panic, despair: these are the natural reactions.

I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in the fall of 2007. Just before Sukkot my doctor phoned to warn that an “opacity” had shown up on my chest X-ray during a routine physical examination. To the Jews, Sukkot is zeman simhatenu, the “season of our rejoicing,” but there was little joy in our sukkah that year. Our season was one of dread. [Read more...]


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