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This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.

Wisdom of the Elders: where is it?

elder telling story to a gathering Tuesday, 9/5/00

I was finally able to express my exasperation at the HBO special on hospices and the people dying and the friends around them. As I told Caren, I found it in one moment of the show when one of the hospice workers was telling this woman - she had to be about 70 - her value, how she had touched so many other lives and she would be remembered and I realized, is this all it is? Is this what it means, that we touched lives and will be remembered? Not for me.

We have lost the tradition of the "wisdom of our elders." In ancient times it was the elders who carried the history, the myths and the wisdom of a tribe. It was they who, by the mere accumulation of years, were able to integrate their experiences and it was their role or responsibility to pass this back to others.

Perhaps that woman had done this, before being isolated in that hospice. But even if so, what was being passed on by this final part of her life's journey? Nothing. Platitudes were being said. Friends were crying. The staff were trying to console her and she was praying for more life.

I know I am not alone in this view but some people approaching death have vision and clarity. Doors that were shut, open. One of the staff did say that. He said that "doors open" and some use them. But from what I can gather, he seemed to be thinking they were to help resolve any lingering issues and family matters, rather than insight into Life. I'm not saying that resolution of personal or family issues isn't important, but isn't there more?

Each of us approach Death differently. Some are fearful. Some go into apathy. Some are happy because they are going to some Divine Place.

But what about the approach? Where is that wisdom? Where has that gone? Or is that we no longer believe that anything is to be gained? Are to just die and not take advantage of what we are learning in the process? Do we just lie there in the bed while we get another shot or pill and friends extend their hope and their tears until the moment when we are gone?

I can't accept that.

I won't accept it. Perhaps it will be a dominant theme in this journal. So be it. But maybe there is something of benefit that I wasn't even aware of or trying.

Cancer is not the only terminal illness. (Some even humorously point out that Life is a terminal illness.) There are many ways a person can know they are facing death, other than by execution or some daredevil stunt. And most are afraid. They are afraid of that final passage.

Which is where the evangelists come in. I don't begrudge someone if that is what they seek or need but where are the other accounts of that passage?

And that is where I think I found what I have to do. I have to write for however long this takes, be it a month, a year or however long. I have to write about it to pass back to others who might benefit from it. Not all will but more should. And there should be more of us who write or talk or offer opinions about this process. That is not to say such opinions are correct. But what else should we do as we approach that Final Passage? Wring our hands and pray for more time or seek another treatment that might extend it at some unknown price?

I have a couple of friends who have urged me to investigate "clinical trials," where new drugs are being tested. No, I've told them, I don't want to do that. But it wasn't until the other day that I realized why not: I am doing exactly what I want to do right now in my life. I am enjoying myself as much as I can. Why would I stop? Why would I turn my attention back to what is trying to kill me and begin to search for some means to gain more time? In the process, I would have to stop what I am doing and do something else.

And here is the crux of the matter for too many people: they want quantity of life and not quality. They are not happy with their lives and they want more of it? What if their lives are full and meaningful and valuable? Why stop that?

Oh, no, says someone, you can do both. Well, maybe some can but I can't. Going back into the cancer would be a horrible experience. It is hard enough to work on this site and to read the stories of people who are struggling for that extra time. It consumes them and they are miserable. They hang by threads of hope and what if that thread breaks? What happens if the new treatment has no effect and the cancer continues its march? Then what? In my view, they have lost precious time and now they are unhappier than ever.

My worry is my work, whether or not I can get a certain page built or find and fix a glitch that is making a page look odd in another browser when I test it. My worries are creative because when I solve each one, I have something new that, I hope, will help another. Each day is that way.

And so I need to add to that my writing. I haven't done that much these past months while working. I need to do more. And I need to find a way to encourage others to do the same. More of us need to measure and describe our paths to that final point for each of us are explorers into a new realm. Each of us approach it and see it differently.

Death has been with us since Life and while I don't expect that I can add any dimension or knowledge as to what Death is, I might be able to offer something (if only encouragement) as to what Life is. If nothing else, it soothes me and maybe that is why others should try it. Oh, but I can't write, says one. Well, I respond, the oral tradition is much older than the written one. Say what you see and feel, whether it be good or bad. Like some space probe plummeting towards an unknown land or star, transmit until the end.

That is what the elders of old did and I think it is a tradition that should be recovered.


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This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <>.