Wednesday, March 23, 2005

My Daddy was Pretty Much Crazy (Pause) No Punchline, Just a Simple Historical Fact

My sister and I talked on the phone for a while today about what it would have been like if either one of us were in a deadend coma, and our parents were fighting with our spouse over whether or not we should be allowed to die. We didn't laugh till we cried. We "smiled" our voices a little and then gave up. Some brilliant conversational ideas die aborning. I wish I'd never brought it up.

My point is simply that sometimes it's not the circumstances of a controversy that might interest the casual observer, one who declines to speculate about those things taking place over the hill and faraway but chooses to step back and take his or her lesson not from the controversy but from how others closer by react to it. In the case of me and my sister, in something like the Schiavo case we automatically look for the flaw in the parent -- the possibility of delusion or self-aggandizement or lethal distrust of the child's mate driving events. I don't know what's going on with those at the center of the Terry Schiavo tragedy cum travesty. I only know that when it comes to any dispute where parents say they know better than their daughter's husband what the daughter's wishes would be, my own history colors the angle from which I approach the situation. Oh your sophisticates like to joke about the poor blundering press trying to be even-handed, trying to find two sides to every damn thing in a mechanical way. Sometimes it is laughable, this desperation to find a neat thesis-antithesis in stories where striving for "balance" seems empty headed. Balance unbalances the story, if you follow me.

But in a story like this I want such a cold and mechanical balance, since I am predisposed toward one side of the argument going in. I want to at least give a chance to the arguments on the other side, particularly when I have trouble imagining those arguments sympathetically, in a way that does justice to them.

I lose all nuance when I think about my parents. I can imagine my leaving a note for my doctor something like this: "In the event of my brain death, listen very carefully to my parents' wishes and very carefully do the opposite." I understand that this is prejudicial and irrational. But give me credit for being able to read my own psychological shorthand.

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