Gethsemane: ‘don’t know what time it is; I’ve been up too long, and now I’m too tired to sleep’ – wailinjenny’s
sometimes I think when Jesus knelt in the garden,
he was lookin’ for Eden but teared up when
Gethsemane was the best he could do,
and all round those ole bent-over olives,
crooked and deformed as they are,
and knowin’ he’d hang on one soon enough,
the trees of the field didn’t clap but
ached and moaned the way they do when
just the right wind comes howlin’ over that cruciform canopy,
and when I think of all that, and of Christ there
in such despair and hunkered over some stone,
his bone-dried hands clasped in angst, or prayer,
I think I could forgive him
had he just run off or said to hell with it
the way he probably should have,
the way it all went to hell anyhow,
and yet he kept the vigil as we slept,
for better or for worse, and I dunno which it is,
but it keeps me up now, wide-eyed and ready,
even though it didn’t then.
you sold lies like indulgences,
in the name of love but to benefit none,
and gathered souls with condolences
that all those debts were paid in blood;
you paved a path with relic’s bones
to march the truth right through the mud,
and hid these theses from the world
lest they discovered or understood
just who you were in monument,
your stone of mundane deeds,
no God nor angel’s opposite
could hold you to true creeds,
but on that old oak doorway,
like the rood at Calvary,
you’ve left behind the very nail
that brings you to your knees.
There’s an article featured now on CNN about a new in vitro fertilization technique which will include three parents to make a baby: the mother’s DNA, the father’s DNA, and a donor egg. This science has been the stuff of (mostly) fiction until somewhat recently and is slowly becoming reality in a powerful way – it can help ensure the baby doesn’t have a deadly disease the parents might have otherwise passed down through the mother’s mitochondria. As this science begins to develop, it’s increasingly likely that we may very soon be able to pick-and-choose some of our children’s traits and eradicate genetic disorders, but the science does not come without its ethical dilemmas.
Those familiar with the fiction of this future science might recall the movie Gattaca, a beautiful iconic film set in a future world where genetically-designed children flourish and ‘natural-born’ children have become second-class citizens. Here’s a clip that puts that into perspective if you haven’t seen the film:
While, perhaps, Gattaca sensationalizes the ethical dilemmas we face as this science becomes reality, to me it’s interesting to think about some of those ethical and moral questions in light of having been adopted. Case in point, the CNN front page boldly states, “Babies with 3 Parents?” as if we still reside in a heteronormative society with one mom, one dad, a couple of little ones, and the family pet – or, you know, the “Leave it to Beaver” nuclear family. But, in fact, the family today is complicated (as if it hasn’t always been). In open adoption, there are often three parents who interact with the child on a regular basis. Even in closed adoption, there are four parents, though the biological ones have chosen to relinquish their presence. If the adopting family is religious and believes God is a part of that process, there may in fact be five parents!
But beyond the maths involved in calculating how many parents is “too many” parents (or not enough), the idea of “designing” your own child really isn’t all that incredibly different from today’s adoption process. Adoption agencies often seek to match biological and adoptive parents. While adopting parents cannot choose, for example, what hair color their child might have, anyone who studied their Gregor Mendel in high school (careful, not to be confused with Gregor Samsa!) might be able to figure it out from the information they’re provided by the agency, and very often biological parents prefer to choose adoptive parents who might look similar to them. So, too, if the parents had any major genetic disorders or diseases, adoption agencies today usually try to do their homework so parents know what they’re getting into ahead of them and can essentially “opt-out” if they feel uncomfortable with the option that’s on the table. In that sense, maybe Gattaca isn’t all that science fiction of the future after all. Maybe the role parents already play in “choosing” their children makes this science present.
And yet, if we could choose to eliminate all the “disorders,” or, that is, all the suffering out there, how does that redefine who we are as a human species? What does it then mean to be “normal” or “natural” if we genetically-modify… us? A theologian by the name of Stanley Hauerwas sort of deals with these questions when he talks about the developmentally disabled. His primary concern is that while we may and should help relieve the suffering of the “mentally retarded” (his terminology, c. 2001), we should be careful not to assume we know how or if the retarded suffer from their retardation. On suffering at large and its role in our lives, he writes:
It is not surprising, [...] that we should have trouble with the suffering of others. None of us willingly seeks to enter into the loneliness of others. We fear such loneliness may result in loss of control of our own life. We feel we must be very strong to be able to help the weak and the needy. We may be right about that, but we may also fail to understand the kind of help they really need. Too often we seek to do something rather than simply learn how to be with, to be present to, the sufferer in his or her loneliness. We especially fear, if not dislike, those whose suffering is the kind for which we can do nothing (Hauerwas Reader, p. 572).
That is, of course, not to argue that scientists shouldn’t seek to do away with that which ails us, be it cancer, psychological disorders, etc. Nor would Hauerwas argue as much. Yet, there’s something to be said for why we so desperately seek to eliminate suffering. Perhaps it’s more about us than it is about those who suffer. It might be worth pointing out that there are people in this world who choose to be present to those who suffer, to raise children from difficult backgrounds or care for the weak and the sick. By all means, we can and should work to do away with as much suffering as we can, but in the meantime, it’s worth also asking who we are in the face of suffering and why it matters.
Just got back from a nice little trip to St. Louis to see an old fraternity brother and his wife. The weekend was packed with museums, great food-and-drink, and nostalgic conversation. It’s funny, really. When you see someone you haven’t seen in a while, and it’s like everything just falls back into place as though a year or two was just a few days. That’s a bit cliché, I realize, but I think it’s humorous how I might walk down a St. Louis street with my friend Patrick and imagine we’re back at Wabash, or I might walk through Cambridge with Avery, and at any given moment, I’m worried about falling through an uncovered manhole, just because that was a danger we had to watch out for in Morocco.
When those memories come flooding back, they’re usually ephemeral for me. It’s more like they drip instead of flood. Like, for half a second, my mind flashes back to a very vivid image, but the image doesn’t stick; it’s not something I can turn over and chew on. More than that, the past is less something I can imagine, as in picture, and more oft than not, it’s something I only feel: a happy moment or a sad one all thrown together into a few milliseconds of colorful images somewhere in the fleeting recesses of my mind. I sometimes wish it would play like a movie, but it never does, and I wonder if I’m unique in this or if this is how everyone experiences remembering the past. Because when I say that I “remember” something, I really mean I have words that recognize that I was there, but to hold onto the memory is incredibly difficult, especially to hold onto it exactly as it was.
I guess that’s why we take pictures and videos, really, but I don’t think photographs can capture the raw emotion of a memory, or it’s rare that they do. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that watching an old family video or looking at a picture doesn’t feel as real to me as how I imagine it to have happened, even if I know my memory has distorted it and made it different from how it really was.
A few days before heading off to St. Louis, I had lunch with my friend Sarah along with her toddler, Ramsey, who I lovingly call “Ramsilicious.” I’ve been pretty skittish around babies for awhile, probably in part because Moroccan children were so mean to me but also because I find it so difficult to imagine having one of my own. I haven’t figured out if Ramsey has grown on me because she’s constantly smiling and laughing or if it’s just because she’s still so darn cute even when she’s not, but I’d murder anyone who tried to hurt her, and I told Sarah today that I have every intention of making sure she doesn’t listen to crappy music! So, when lunch ended the other day, and Sarah asked me to carry Ramsey to the car, she sneakily snapped a photo of the two of us just about the time Ramsey started crying over having to get in the car seat. It was my first time to hold a baby, ever. And in that sense, it’s something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
And yet, when she was finally settled in, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I’m not able to remember anything before, like, the year I was in the first grade. Ramsey will not remember being held or loved on as a toddler. She won’t remember having her diaper changed or doing whatever else it is that babies do. By the time she’s five, in fact, she’ll probably have forgotten what all that was like. I mean, maybe there are some weird folks out there who do remember what it was like being a few months old, but I’ve yet to meet any of them. The catch is this: just because we forget those early years doesn’t make them any less important. In a way, they’re the most important of all. In fact, I remember an episode of This American Life where they talked about how the first year of life could essentially determine how the rest of your life was going to go. In that sense, Ramsey may not be able to recall the memories she’s making, but they’ll be with her always regardless.
That got me to thinking that maybe the stuff we either forget or can’t recall can be more important than the stuff we think we’ve got down pat — that our emotional memory is just as crucial as the physical one with its deceptive, vivid images. And for me, there’s some comfort in the fact that whatever might be buried in my brain isn’t ever really “forgotten,” that every moment I encounter and experience is so, truly precious that I’m bound to carry it with me one way or another – whether it’s being held and having had my diaper changed as a baby or walking the cold streets of St. Louis with a dear friend.