Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My One Shot Bucket List

Most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about dying, and writing a bucket list has become a socially acceptable way to acknowlede that our time is limited and we need to make it count.  Some make a huge list and others make intricate plans.  There is no right or wrong in making a bucket list. Each one should be as unique as the person writing it.

After a great deal of consideration, I decided to pick just one item from all my wishes.  One thing that I would carefully plan, and turn into the adventure of a lifetime.  I knew immediately it would be traveling to somewhere. But what destination did I need to see to make my life whole?  Considering I've had some pretty spiffy adventures thus far, this would take some thought.  I've spent fifteen years with my husband and we have toured most of the country.  I've logged thousands of miles by train and enjoyed the road less traveled.  As a couple we have our own to-do wish list that is independent of my single bucket list item.  But we are all individuals, and I think everybody should get one freebie that is selfish and all their own.

I tried to think about what was missing from my life, and came up short.  I have great friends.  I love my job.  I'm doing what I want with my life.  What else could a girl want?  Then it all came together in the perfect storm.  The answer to my life's greatest adventure was hidden in... homework.

In the first week of October, I had an assignment in journalism class that was particularly tough.  It was a great piece on Roger Ebert that ran in Esquire on February 16, 2010.  The article was very well written, and a great example of how to work detail into a feature.  But aside from the technical lesson I was taken in by Ebert, a man I had grown up with but didn't know at all.  This great, brilliant mind who just happened to be a popular film critic.  Ebert's quotes and approach to life and death were mind-bending. He spoke of the afterlife almost casually, having already accepted the fact that he would be there soon.

"What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip."
That is exactly how I want to think of my life.  Ebert was an atheist, so we differ in that regard.  However, if I had to sum up the meaning of life, this is the best definition I've ever read.  And it came from someone I had grossly underestimated as the "thumbs up" guy.  Our life is some kind of special chapter in the unfolding of the universe.  Our memories are our reward, even the ones we might not choose to recall.  I want the photo album of my life to be full of greatness.  Not all trips and adventures, but moments of grace, reflection, and plenty of humble reminders that ultimately shaped me.

This confirmed that I wanted to go on a trip, but one that had to be personal, a journey that would suit me and be worthy of the top (and only) slot.  Then another homework assignment gave me the final piece.  My anthropology class had a long-running assignment in which you contributed different videos and articles that were related to the content.  I had just watched The Human Family Tree, an awesome documentary that takes a look into how DNA can tell you not just who your ancestors were, but where they have been at certain times.  Through recorded patterns, scientists can tell how anyone's ancestors originally worked their way from the cradle of civilization to their current location.  I gave the documentary a quick skim to update my notes and share it with the class when a perfect storm of ideas came together.

I love to write.  I love history.  I love culture.  It suddenly became so clear: I should have a DNA analysis performed, and take my bucket list trip to the oldest or most compelling place I find, and write about it.  And depending on what I discover, work in more if I can.  What would be cooler than standing on a piece of land and knowing that thousands of years ago, someone who shared your blood had done the same?  The only thing that could possibly top that is the research that will help me decide the significance of the data and weigh the possible destinations.

It all starts with the first step: the DNA test.  I know has one, but I want to do some checking and see if any are even better at giving me the particular breakdown I seek.  By the end of 2014, I plan to have taken the test (the results may take a while, I have no idea how these things work).  Then I'll share it and start trying to map out the possibilities.

It really is a small world.  I want to go back as far as I can, find the earliest or most unique land of my family's history, and go there.  I want to look around and know that I wasn't here by accident.  I used technology and skill and intelligence to come find my roots.  I want to look at a landmark, and having checked history and climate records, know how it would have looked to someone who shares a direct link with me.  Though they'll never know it, I would like to think my ancestors would find it amazing that I came looking for them, and succeeded.  I also want to write something special, and just for myself.  I don't mind sharing the whole story (note the new Bucket List tag) but this may be the only thing that I am really writing out for the pure and selfish joy of doing what I want.  I'm not trying to sell it, I'm not trying to please an editor.  I want to record my big adventure and do it justice.

So there it is.  My bucket list.  It will be a great journey of discovery and research, one great destination where I get to appreciate what I've studied, and a chance to write something special.  I'm not out for a luxurious and pampered experience. I'm going to apply the things I love most and see where the science takes me.

If you like, you are welcome to come along for the ride.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Q: How Can You Identify An Exception To The Rule?

A: When it's the answer that makes sense.

Brittany Maynard is going to die. Of that, there is no question. Her diagnosis bluntly says she will deteriorate quickly and die a painful death. She has decided to end her life on her terms. Considering what she is facing, there is no other alternative except to suffer. She has planned an event, where she has wrapped up her affairs and said her goodbyes, and she will die with the people she loves most surrounding her.

And while her story is sad, the message she wants to impart is not. Brittany Maynard is showing us how to handle a death sentence with class and strength.

Medical euthanasia is a very personal choice, and is not right for everyone. However, the people who want to pursue the option are screened and must take the action themselves. The medication prescribed is just guaranteed to work without unnecessary suffering. Those who say doctors will begin killing patients are using hyperbole to strike fear where there is no proof. The fact is, the screening process has requirements that make sense and are compassionate.

Suicide is a difficult subject to tackle. It's something we are engineered to call wrong on every occasion, but the truth is that every rule has an exception. I worked in health care, and I have seen many a parent of a friend succumb to cancer or long illness. I have seen people writhe in pain, and felt helpless while the maximum dose of painkillers failed to comfort them. People who are of sound mind deserve the ability to avoid that sentence if they choose.

It's not the choice for everyone, but it's the choice for some. And we need to respect that choice, because nobody should have to suffer that kind of agony so that complete strangers can feel okay about how they died. If someone doesn't want this option, then that is their right. It's only a problem when they try to take that right away from others. The right to deny treatment is a medical principle that is guaranteed for all people. That shouldn't come with a screaming, agonizing price tag.

And while it might sound crass, I still have to say it: if it's not too good for my pet, it's not too good for me. Rest assured, if I found myself in Brittany Maynard's shoes I would be making the exact same decision. I have done this for creatures I loved like children, with all the heartbreak and horror that comes with it. I could do it for myself. I could do it for my husband. By allowing people full ownership of their lives when facing certain and painful death, we make it so their loved ones can participate in saying goodbye without being implicated in a crime. We allow medicine to cease suffering and serve the patient, as it was intended. We respect the ability of adults to choose their path for themselves and honor their religious directives.

So while it feels wrong, sometimes the answer is yes. And Brittany Maynard has spared some of her precious remaining time to help us learn that lesson. I hope her investment is not in vain.