Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Between proofreading Middle Babe's essay for her college class in Biomedical Ethics (which defends the sale of human organs) and catching up on correspondence with the press for a conference on female clergy last night, I managed to snack my way through half a candy necklace, left over from Halloween.

The necklace was classic, featuring pastel-colored powdery disks strung on a elastic string, exactly as I remembered from my own childhood. To get each candy bead off, it was necessary to bite down, breaking it in half. Though my internal health nut looked on in horror (tooth decay!!! simple carbohydrates! empty calories!!!) primal instinct kicked in.

A joyous munching of flavored sugar ensued...until the powdered confection melted and it was time to snap off a new bead.

Those who know me would surely be shocked to hear that I was eating candy close to midnight and frankly, I'm not sure how the candy necklace came to be between my teeth. Perhaps slicing the new Macoun apples on my kitchen counter seemed too taxing and wasn't the necklace -- discovered draped suggestively on a desk in Middle Babe's room -- begging to be bitten?

As I ponder this puzzle by the light of day, I think about yesterday -- a manic Monday framed by two separate phone conversations with loved ones on a similar theme: their sadness, even despondency in the face of disappointment from friends. And while my morning caller vented her feelings of rage and betrayal in the face of unrequited loyalty from a long-term friendship, my evening caller sounded emotionally depleted by his realization that a more recent friend lacked the most basic sense of personal responsibility towards him.

Dealing with heartache is draining; indeed, I've done my share of venting to the point where I was sick of hearing my own voice. As someone who loves and lives by language, I am nevertheless struck by the human need to use words to quantify, examine, contain and ultimately transcend our pain. Clinging to words, working in words, trading in words, dreaming in words, I am still continually surprised that tears alone do not suffice when they are such a spontaneous expression of our grief. Proponents of psychotherapy talk about the talking cure where words become the rungs of a ladder we construct for our emotional and spiritual redemption or the beads of a candy necklace that we string for our comfort, to be eaten in case of emergency.

We use words to rationalize our actions, to construct our arguments. The problem with sanctioning the sale of human organs rests in the notion of the slippery slope, admitted Middle Babe in her Biomedical Ethics paper. While the case can be made for the sale of kidneys from living donors, imagine the possibility that a poor family might consider selling a vital organ -- the heart, for instance -- of one of their members in a desperate and sacrificial bid to keep the entire group from starving.

Such an act of obscene indifference to human life arouses horror in all people of conscience and the ghoulishness of this scenario is obviously extreme. But in truth, human hearts are sold all the time, ripped out of their living hosts, traded for something that masquerades as salvation.

By the light of day, I note a half-eaten candy necklace next to my computer. Nothing has changed and everything has changed. The world remains full of heartache yet it is also true that creation has renewed itself through the dawning of a new day. The blank slate of the new day poses a tantalizing opportunity.

I drop the limp candy necklace in the trash.

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