What does an atheist say to his dad that’s facing congestive heart failure? Well, I made a joke about death not being scary, it’s just like the billions of years before he lived.
Today my dad went into the hospital because of a fall. While there they figure out his heart is having trouble. When I left (my brother was there) they were taking him for chest x-rays, but before that, the doctor asked the question, “If his heart stops, do we try to resuscitate him?”
I thought I knew what my dad would say, but I told the doctor to ask him since he was of sound enough mind to answer that himself. I was somewhat shocked when he said, “If there’s a chance of it working, do it.”
I had expected a pretty solid ‘No.”
What got me the most though, was my reaction to his answer. I didn’t care that I was wrong and apparently didn’t know him as well as I thought. No, what set me back was that inside the mixed feelings I had, I recognized some amount of disappointment at his answer.
What was I disappointed about? I have no strong opinions on resuscitation in general, so it can’t be that. My dad isn’t wealthy in any way, so there was no greed behind it; if there’s enough money to pay for his funeral when he goes we’ll be lucky. Obviously, being atheist, I have no expectation he’ll end up “in a better place”, in fact, if Heaven & Hell do exist, I’d be shocked to find out he went anywhere but into the fire.
Then it hit me. It was a nigh perfectly selfish feeling. My dad is in very poor health and looking after him is a lot of work, more so for my brother since Dad lives with him. I said ‘nigh’ because I was thinking about my brother too. Anyway, as hard as it is to admit, I was disappointed because a part of me recognized that him passing away would reduce my own workload and my brothers.
Don’t get me wrong, I felt happy as well, elated even, that it might give me time to get my kids in to see their Opa still. I also recognize that it’s also a somewhat routine question given the circumstances and he might be with us for many years to come.
But to recognize such a selfish feeling is humbling. All Humans, even the vilest among us, are prone to see ourselves as the protagonist in our life story. We’re the good guy. There are valid reasons in our minds for anything bad we’ve done. So anytime we realize we aren’t the altruistic hero, or worse, figure out we are someone else’s antagonist, it’s a blow to the ego. If we use that hit to spur on self-reflection and growth of character, then in my mind, we take a step closer to getting back to being the altruistic protagonist our ego wants to believe we are.
I think this is part of what it means to be Humanist. To recognize our own moral failings, but to understand those failings can be stepping stones to becoming a better Human. We’re all stuck on this floating, twirling rock for the foreseeable future how we act, who we are, how we treat others, ultimately means nothing as we jettison through space around a giant nuclear fusion reactor. In a few billion years, earth & all of us will once again be stardust.
In the meantime though, how we act, who we are, and how we treat others can change a life. It can help someone get through another day, it can spark a smile and make someone’s life just a little bit better for the short period they are alive.
I can’t really say I had a point to all this. If I did when I started writing, it’s since been lost. To be honest, I think this post was just therapy.
Until next time, keep drinking the Kool-aid.