I am feeling trapped in, this last few days. The return to standard time brings the dank November dark an hour earlier, pushing me into the warmth of the house with its foggy fingers. The air is cold with the damp and, as I write, the first snow is falling in wet fat flakes and clinging to everything. It will melt, but it is a harbinger of things to come, nasty things like icy slippery roads and icy slippery steps that challenge my driving skills and my arthritic joints. As well, it is hunting season and the woods and fields are dotted with figures in 'hunter's red' ( a nasty shade of glowing orange) shooting at and spooking the deer. We all have to drive with extreme caution because you never know when one of the wretched beasts will materialize on the road in front of you. It makes me think twice about leaping into the car and zooming off in any direction, especially after (the very early) dark.
I am also feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings I have scheduled this month. Meetings I cannot miss, having taken on the job of chair of the board. Meetings that I have to drive on the dangerous roads in the dark to attend. I can do it. I do do it. But more and more as I grow older, the effort is greater. I can see the time coming when my own fears may become disabling, a prison that I will build myself.
Confined in the Tower of London, Richard Lovelace wrote the famous lines:
- Stone walls do not a prison make,
- Nor iron bars a cage;
- Minds innocent and quiet take
- That for an hermitage.
- A fine philosophy, that. But recite those lines to a young mother, tending toddlers in a home far from any public transport, short of money, and you will provoke her, at best, to derisive laughter. The expectations of our community can confine us in the adamant constraints of others' ideas of how we should live and what we should be. Poverty builds walls of cold iron around us, walls with very few, very narrow exits. However, for many of us it is more our minds than our circumstances that trap us into prisons more grim than a stone walled cell. Our expectations of ourselves can become the most stringent prison of all. Depression, illness, fear and grief are the cold, weeping stones that form these prisons and sometimes there is no door, no window, not even an oubliette, to bring us hope and news of the world.
- There's a debate going on in Canada just now, in the intervals of the latest chatter about H1N1 anyway, about euthanasia. A bill allowing some types of assisted suicide is being debated in the House of Commons. It's not a simple question. The medical association in Quebec wants some guidelines to help them deal with uncontrollable pain in terminal patients. The various associations of disabled people want the value of their lives acknowledged and protected. The non-religious majority (52% of Canadians, the last poll I saw) want freedom to choose a dignified end. Courageous souls with debilitating diseases are requesting legal suicide options. I am certainly not alone in worrying about the effect an open-ended legalizing of suicide would have on the many people whose minds, not innocent or quiet, cause them constant pain.
- It's not a simple question. The young man, paralysed from an accident, can fight his way through the pain and become a contributing member of society. The depressed new mother who throws herself in front of a train could have been helped, cured perhaps. Even Tracy Latimer might have been helped although I understand, I think, why her father killed her. There are no lines to divide physical and emotional pain and not all pain can be 'managed'.
- Here's my personal dilemma. I smoke. I do so knowing that, although I have not so far cost the state any money from smoking-related illness, sooner or later I may develop lung cancer or have a debilitating stroke that will reduce me to a vegetable to be a burden on my family and a huge cost to the taxpayer in medical care. Would it not be both fair and simple to issue me a lethal dose of something when the disease in my lungs is drowning me or to use on my mindless, stubbornly breathing hulk? Would not that be more dignified, less costly in both emotional and monetary terms? A release from the prison my stubbornness has built for me?
- Or, I could just go and drive down the county road too fast, hoping that the deer I hit would be big enough to kill both of us.