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Perhaps this isn’t the cheeriest of subjects about which I could reinstate my blog, but it is, without doubt, the most universally applicable.  Viktor Frankl, John Donne, Qoheleth (the writer of Ecclesiastes), and Randy Pausch (the late author of “The Last Lecture”) — What do these men have in common?  They all confronted head-on the most ultimate of subjects: death.  Each man highlights a different aspect of death and gives it a color that only extensive personal experience can do.  Being a nurse-in-training, going to class or clinical is a daily reminder of that which shall one day claim us all.  But it is my desire to show that this is not an exercise in futility; indeed thinking clearly about death serves to affirm its antithesis.

We don’t like to think about death.  In the United States, so much of our popular culture seems hell-bent on ignoring this inevitability, as if by doing so one could make his present circumstances more bearable; as if the only path to happiness were paved in whatever can distract us from that ultimate destination.  On the other hand, focusing too much on death can lead to a denial of the present and philosophical fatalism.  I’m reminded of the classic conversation between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”:

Harry: …Do you think about death?

Sally: Yes.

Harry: Sure you do, a fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind.  I spend hours, I spend days —

Sally:  — and you think this makes you a better person?

Harry: Look, when the shit comes down, I’m gonna be ready, and you’re not.  That’s all I’m saying.

Sally:  And in the meantime you’re going to ruin your whole life waiting for it.

True.  We find it easy to see this one extreme: ruining one’s life by obsessing about death.  But too often we ignore the other extreme: ruining one’s life by ignoring it.  This is the truth Frankl, Donne, Qoheleth and Pausch were grappling with.  If I were to try to incorporate the thoughts of all these men in a single blog, I don’t think even I would want to read it, so let me go in phases.

First I want to look at some thoughts of Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist in the Vienna tradition of Freud and Adler, but much less obsessed with his mother.  He developed his theories of psychotherapy as a prisoner in German concentration camps as he observed who survived those atrocities, those who didn’t, and why.

Then I’ll be looking at the Holy Sonnets of John Donne — make no mistake, this will be no scholarly endeavor.  I intend to only extrapolate what speaks to me and I’ll probably comment on the movie “Wit” with Emma Thompson which utilizes Donne’s poetry as a platform from which to portray a woman’s bout with ovarian cancer.

Thirdly I hope to do justice to Qoheleth, the mysterious author of Ecclesiastes…no small task.  And finally I’d like to take a modern look at death from the point of view of Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture” who, in light of his diagnosis of terminal cancer (with 3-4 months to live), wrote a book of what he considered to be life’s greatest lessons.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for these installments.  Being a full-time student it may take some time to get these out; still none are meant to be exhaustive and all I hope will spawn positive discussion and introspection.

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