I’m looking forward to forming a reading group next semester on the topic of death and immortality. This summer I’m slowly gathering titles to review for the reading list that students and I will finalize in the fall. (If you’d like to contribute to the growing list, contact me.)
This article from the New York Times gives what seems to be a genuine glimpse of the nearing-the-end-of-life choices retired religious make. (Be sure to view the multimedia presentation, too.) The sisters are from an order that is dear to me: The Sisters of St. Joseph. “My” St. Joseph sisters are the ones from Orange. They ran St. Luke’s hospital in Pasadena, CA where two generations of my family worked as nurses. (It’s where my tonsils and I parted ways and upon whose linoleum floors I fainted when my brother was born. Have I got stories, stories, stories! But that’s for another blog!)
Given all the time I’ve spent among religious it’s odd that I haven’t really spent much time with those who are dying. I realize we shouldn’t paint all of them with one broad brush stroke, but we of course expect the Dalai Lama to face his death calmly and serenely. These sisters, too, all appear to be in good spirits and unafraid. Why should they be afraid? Well. It’s been done! But clearly, if they think the tenets of their faith are worth believing they ought not to be afraid.
One priest friend, now deceased, did confess to being, if not afraid, a bit — what? Worse than “curious”. Nervous, maybe. I’m not sure what was going through his mind. Despite the all the years of seminary and teaching theology I suppose he was confronted with an ultimate mystery.
Part of me is a bit nervous, frankly, about this research track. I don’t want to slip into Goth-y morbidity. Death and dying 24/7! The immortality stuff is a wee bit above my “pay grade”, as someone else once confessed about another matter. But what’s the fun of being a philosopher if one doesn’t stretch those synapses a bit along with one’s heart and imagination.