Related to the last post… I realized last night that I had another example of how death, people, and principles can be intertwined in very complex ways…
Over a decade ago, my uncle died. He was my dad’s older brother. He was in his 50’s and he had long had some issues with depression, but he was generally, otherwise a pretty healthy man.
However, he had fallen in love. He had met a woman who was estranged from her husband, had counseled her, and she and her kids had started to become part of his life. He had become closer to her and had wanted to give everything up for her. She, however, chose instead to go back to her husband and work things out. She didn’t think it wise for him to give everything up for her.
He lost hope.
He shot himself in the face.
He was a Roman Catholic priest.
There are two parts to this story that relate to people and principles. One part happened before he committed suicide, and the other part, after.
Before: Despite having suffered from bouts of depression, none of the Catholic hierarchy really helped to get my uncle any mental help. In addition, none of them would even deign to contemplate that maybe this man who had served them for 20 years–driving hundreds of miles each weekend to say mass at 3-4 different parishes because there was such a lack of priests in the area–might be at a point where he needed to move on and spend some time receiving love and consideration rather than always trying to give it to others. It also did not help that everyone else around him in Arizona–from my grandfather to this woman to the Catholic hierarchy–seemed to value his status as a priest more than they valued him as a human being.
They all chose to see the principle ahead of the person. They all told him–in their various ways–that it was more important for him to serve the cause, than for him to be happy. As a result, this cause wore him away until he saw no purpose in living for this cause anymore.. nor did he see any way to live outside of that cause.
So he made the logical decision within those constraints and stopped living.
After: It is pretty commonly known that committing suicide is considered a fairly major sin in Catholic (and I assume Protestant) theology. Supposedly you go to hell for committing suicide and you are not allowed to have a Catholic Funeral mass inside a church. Following such rules, it would seem, would be a good way of maintaining the sacred principles of the Church’s teaching.
It would place the principle ahead of the person.
That was not what happened, however.
Instead, my uncle’s mass was celebrated in a church, and the Bishop of the area read the homily. They talked about how my uncle would now find peace with God in heaven, but they also talked a lot about him.. about who he was…. Dogma went out the window. The Catholic hierarchy all finally saw the person–in this case, the lifeless body of my uncle with a reconstructed face–who had always tried to uphold their principles, and they finaly placed him ahead of these principles.
Noting that they did this a little late might be bit of an understatement, but I did want to recognize it, but also to reflect upon what this experience might teach us in correlation with other, similar experiences.
Namely, I realized that I have never, in all of my many experiences at (mostly Catholic) funerals, heard about anyone going to hell. At a funeral, everyone ends up in heaven.
Everyone… and I’ve known a number of these people who have done some pretty nasty shit in their lives while they were alive…
This strikes me as a remarkable paradox when you compare it to the large amount of rhetoric that is spent telling living people that if they don’t do something or if they do do something, they will be going to hell. That they will suffer horrible consequences in the afterlife.
But when reality intrudes for real and takes someone away–all of these words fall away. The principles are ditched and the focus becomes the person. Granted, one might note that different principles are often then employed at such a funeral–the creation of a happy place for every last one of the departed–certainly to reduce the pain of those still around, but this whole process does strike me as very telling.
It is telling, because it really points out–at least to me–how artificial these principles are. Live your life according to some rules–or else bad things will happen–but then those bad consequences are ignored… they are rejected and dismissed so that the real consequences–the sense of loss that people feel when someone dies–can be handled in a more positive way.
This strikes me as an incredibly absurd way of going about things. It strikes me as deceptive in the extreme.
It strikes me as being one giant, manipulative, set of lies…
… and it blows my mind even more when you think that people are taught that these principles are really what’s important–that they are far more important than the individual people that they affect–and we are told this throughout our entire lives.
I have an idea. Instead of teaching such things, why don’t we teach people to value those around them, to value themselves, and to realize that we all have but a limited amount of time to try and build something beautiful in this often harsh and cruel world–something like happiness, perhaps…
Why don’t we teach people that there are a number of principles that can help with this–but that we must never lose sight of the fact that it is the people around us that make life worth living–that we are like them and they are like us.. and that we need each other in this world.
The fact that it often requires the cessation of life in these others before we realize this should anger all of us.
People over principles.
People over principles.