She was diagnosed in the spring of her fortieth year. Though she had been troubled with pain for years the doctors all pooh-pashed it, gave her some pills, and sent her on her way. When the spasms of hurt became too much for her to bear she collapsed at work.
The hospital called me on a Tuesday afternoon so I left my job to rush right over. By the time I arrived the emergency room physician had done some scans. The doctor discovered a mass in my wife’s pelvis. The physician referred us to an ontology specialist who said a biopsy was in order. Two days later the cancer was confirmed. It had metastasized by the time they caught it though. They advised us that her chances for survival were nil.
She insisted on aggressive therapy. I felt it was my wife’s call to make. The children were only in their early teens. She wanted to be there for them; she desired for our family to remain whole. I guess she hadn’t reckoned on the side effects of the treatment being worse than the disease. When she died six weeks later on a cold September night I had learned hard lessons about how to insert catheters and intravenous needles and other niceties that go hand in hand with late-stage cancer. As she withered away the children watched in helpless horror by her bedside.
Sometimes even now I awaken wondering why her part of the bed is empty. Is she fixing breakfast? As I come more fully awake of course I remember. I wonder if I should have advised her not to have the radiation and the chemotherapy that so sapped her strength turning her into a living skeleton. I know she would have died either way but she went through so much suffering for nothing.
We take what authority figures like doctors and nurses say as gospel. But they aren’t the ones who will suffer when the treatment ends up killing the patient more quickly than the disease it is meant to alleviate.
When I follow the dictates of society I am ensnared by it. I am constrained in my choices. The moral choices that I make are identical to the values of society. Everything in life is an ethical activity. When I do this instead of that I do so because it is better.
The children are grown now and on their own. My wife has been in her grave for many years. These days I often travel deep into the mountains far from society; I am free to follow the mystery. When I am all alone from my vantage point I see there is more than one moral structure called society; there are many.
All these moral structures are little empires onto themselves. Each of these moral codes is fighting one another for supremacy. They are not simply conflicting rules; there is a deep underlying clash between the old and the new, the good and the evil, the haves and the have-nots.
By following these moral codes people are forced to pick and choose which ones are of value. They choose the one and neglect the rest. Their lives are never complete; they are full of desire forever grasping for that which they do not possess. Rotten wood cannot be carved; a tower of dirt will not stand. While others may rival their wisdom no one can match their stupidity.
When I follow the mystery there is fullness. Though I have nothing I am complete and whole. Since I have no desire I practice non-action. I let go of that and do not choose this. I keep these four characteristics in mind: I am humble in my conduct; I am respectful in serving others; I am kind in dealing with people; I am just in leading others.
When I rise from sleep and stumble onto the dusty mountain path I see no east and west in the sky; it is whole and clear. When I climb high on a ridge and look down upon the world below I see no north and south; the earth is whole and firm. When I see my reflection in a clear mountain lake I see no separate body and soul; I am whole and strong.
Naming these things I see no up and down in the valley of experience; it is whole and full. The clarity of the morning sky allows me to see. The firmness of the humble earth allows me to walk. The strength of my spirit prevents it from being used up. The fullness of the valley of experience prevents it from being exhausted.
Learning virtue without proper cultivation, not thoroughly discussing that which was learned, not moving towards a righteousness that I have discovered, being unable to change that which is not good, these are things which occasion me concern.
So I see that being humble like the earth is the core of nobility. I see that the low valley is the foundation of all high knowledge. I see that too much success is never an advantage. I do not draw attention to myself by showing off my wealth and chattering of my hubris.
I consider myself worthless, orphaned, and widowed, and I am free and whole.