31 March, 2005

The Infinite Value of Terri's Brokenness

Terri is gone. I'm late to that story, but that doesn't matter. I've been consumed these past two weeks, watching the spectacle of her all-too public, all-too tainted state-sanctioned killing, while waiting and watching too as my brother receives chemo for leukemia - diagnosed less than a week before they pulled Terri's feeding tube. Like her, my brother is young. He had no warning. Wham. His life is broken in a thousand pieces - plans scuttled, hair falling out, muscles wasting, IV dripping. His prospects are good; they're not 100%. I keep thinking - while trying not to think- about the horrible 'what-ifs' that face him down the road. I trust that God will make great things out of our family's struggle if we let Him.

Amidst this, I'm tending as lovingly as I can to our big 13-year-old family dog. He doesn't have any idea what's happening to him. He's confused at not being able to romp after tennis balls or squirrels anymore. He's not in pain, but he seems almost wistful for the days when we could let him stay in the house overnight. (His bladder won't allow it anymore.) He has no wishes to discern. We must put him down; I know that. These cases are not near the same, but imminent death in the house - even if only a beloved pet - only adds to my sadness.

Reading Anna Quindlen's column in Newsweek, and the many commentaries on it, I'm struck by a contrast that gets sharper the longer I look at it. It's not precisely about life versus death. It's more about individual life versus the 'life' of society and the state. This is not a new debate. It echoes back to Rome and Greece - gladiators and Socrates and Eskimo geriatrics set out on ice floes. Sacrifice for the greater good; moving on to save scarce resources. Some readers will be old enough to remember the late '70's pop culture phenomenon, Logan's Run (a book, a movie, and then a television series). It can be summed up as follows: "Nobody over 30 deserves to live."

In Quindlen's world, there are practical judgments to be made: science and the law and all of the tools of our intellect will be able to render a clear thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a person's worth and future prospects relative to those of the society in which s/he lives. The other world is not without judgments, but it is filled with hope, and tries (never succeeding) to err on the side of life when there may be doubt. Honest conservative Christians will acknowledge - should acknowledge - that sometimes it is utterly clear that the person did not want to live this way, the family is in total agreement, their motives are pure and free of conflicts of interest, and the evidence is overwhelming that death is imminent. Terri's case was never that clear-cut.

Smears of Tom DeLay aside, those situations have never been in dispute. While I would wish that suffering people could preserve hope, who am I to judge? It is their choice. We must have that freedom for ourselves if we are to love God. Compelled love is an oxymoron. Terri never had that choice. Her parents never had that choice.

All of this has brought me back again and again to book that I originally found on-line but has since disappeared: "Handling life's disappointments: Moving from desperation to celebration" (unfortunately out-of-print). In it, author David O. Dykes writes:

God allows us to carry an unbearable load at times [to] produce brokenness in our lives... In man’s economy broken things are less valuable. In God’s economy just the opposite is true. To God, broken things are of infinitely greater value. If you have a broken clock, it’s useless... We live in a culture that discards broken objects. Conversely, God uses broken things... The body of Jesus had to be broken for us so that we could know the joy of salvation. While we tend to throw broken things away, God delights to use them. Cooperate with God during your difficulties and allow Him to produce brokenness in you.
As Laura Ingram put it, "Terri has given us a gift". Yes. A gift of brokenness. A gift of reflection. A gift of improbable, faithful love that has spurred us all - no matter where we each came down - to search our heart, and search again. To search for God.

That gift is priceless. Thank you, Terri. Rest in Peace.

Other memorials of note include: JivinJehosephat, Michelle Malkin, and LaShawn Barber, (who has had the patience to assemble links to many many others.)

UPDATE 3/31: Mark Steyn never disappoints. His pre-memorial to Terri in The Spectator [since removed; see Malkin's excerpt instead] cuts to the nub of the case, starting with another from 1998 that's even more chilling, (if that's possible.) Evangelical Outpost is also good, considering the larger battle between utilitarianism and religiously-informed ethics.

UPDATE 4/2: Michelle Malkin gets around to the Steyn piece today, calling it "hands down, the best piece written on the case. Ever." I agree. Way to tell 'em Michelle! She adds this great comment: "[Steyn]... nails the apathetic/deliberately ignorant among us who refused to acknowledge the screaming evil in Terri's public execution." Indeed. A radio program here this morning seemed desperate to turn the focus to the supposed callousness and selfishness of Terri's parents. They may be human and fallible, but hello? Volunteering to care for an invalid indefinitely may be delusional (that's for them to decide), but it is the exact opposite of selfish.