MEANINGS OF LIFE
Hal Pepinsky, firstname.lastname@example.org, pepinsky.blogspot.com
September 20, 2012
These days I’m exchanging a lot of emails with a beloved cousin who is a Catholic priest. Somehow, recently, we got back into whether abortion is murder. My cousin asked me how I could claim to respect life and not oppose taking an innocent life. In the moment, I responded that I don’t distinguish taking innocent lives from taking guilty ones. And I told him that I thought he and I meant two different things by the “life” we hold sacred, and that I wanted to think my own definition over and try putting a straight answer into a blog. So Cousin Nick, this one’s for you.
I just came back from the Thursday singalong at my mom’s nursing home up the way. She sleeps a lot in her wheel chair, but lifts her head and looks me in the eyes when I sing a love song she taught me, “Girl of My Dreams.” The nursing director, Kristine, and I play guitars and harmonize on old time favorites. I feel the vibration as my eyes lock with other singers’ and with eyes of those who otherwise sit still. I smile and laugh with those who sing and clap. By the time our half hour together ends, my voice is strong and clear, and I feel a surge of energy that carries me smiling through the day. To my thinking, I get a dose of synergy in my relations with others. The music we create together is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. These are expressions of the life force I hold dear. It is the force that brings human lives into harmony in all our relations. Within the lifetime of each of us, the force is the homeostasis that fends off bodily decay. Indeed, it appears to me to be the force that gives form and substance to all matter. That force embraces, energizes and empowers us when we let it happen, as we let go of being transfixed by striving to get somewhere in particular.
We can’t kill the force that created us and turns our lives and bodies into food for future generations, but we can obstruct and “correct” it by trying to make ourselves and others get somewhere or do something or be somebody. That amounts to trying to make instruments of ourselves and others to reaching some earthly goal. Our lives depend on cooperation in trying to get jobs done; trying to get it done to the same specifications regardless of who gets hurt or left out is unsustainable—too entropic, too socially heated, wasteful of human energy. It isn’t death; the life we embody precedes conception and lives through us when life as we know it dies.
I don’t know one way to define murder. I know people go to great lengths to stop murder by killing those they blame, including people who call each other murderers. As Karagwa Byanima, a Ugandan freedom fighter who entered parliament when Idi Amin was overthrown, assured me, I speak as one spared the killing and torture she had endured. I feel I have no right to judge people for killing because I can’t distinguish right killing from wrong killing in my own mind and heart. Assuredly, though, “murder” is an occasion for taking what safety measures one can first, then attending the bereaved and killer for the sake of building what harmony one can out of loss and threat. That is the only way I know to honor and embrace life in action. And so, dear cousin, I feel unqualified to have an opinion on whether abortion is murder, or to distinguish good from evil. Love and peace--hal