Tuesday, July 30, 2013



I continue this debate on ‘A Dignified Exit’ as there have been a number of responses from my friends airing their views.  Each has his own view as to what it is, ranging from - a human is a social animal and we feel insecure at some point in time when we come face to face with the fact that loneliness awaits us as we grow old, to a view point that the dignified exit is always a matter of how one faces it mentally, not what nature does to one’s body. Also expressed is the belief that, leave alone a dignified exit, an exit itself is a matter beyond our control and may be that is how the Creator intended it. A common strain recurring across all these views is that we have to plan our own path and what we would do en route, also a feeling that one should make one’s life more meaningful by contributing towards the welfare of the society. We can notice and broadly classify these feelings as being existentialist and religious. While one talks of leading an authentic life the other talks of destiny. To each one his belief, as long as it ultimately makes his life meaningful and helps him achieve a stage of fulfillment or hope, as he prepares for his exit.

In his book ‘The Death of Ivan Illich’, Tolstoy narrates the approaching finality of death experienced by a judge. The story leads the reader through a pensive, metaphysical exploration of the reason for death and what it means to truly live. For Ivan Illyich most of his life is inauthentic. When he finally comes to accept the finality of his death does he become authentic? This is a movement from seeing other people die, to the realisation that he is also dying and comes to accept the fact. In existentialist terms ‘authenticity’ is the extent one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures. As opposed to this is ‘bad faith’ where one succumbs to the pressure from the forces around him adopts false values and disowns one’s innate freedom to act authentically.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”, this is the opening sentence of Kafka’s story ‘Metamorphosis’. A man wakes up one morning and finds himself transformed into a giant insect. The story describes the reactions of Gregor Samsa to this transformation into an insect, the reactions of his family – at first horrified, then kind, wrathful, despising, and finally negligent. Towards the end of the story when the charwoman finds him lying dead on his bed, she shouts “Just look at this, its dead; its lying here dead and done for!” Metamorphosis is a terrifying story and is a parable on human reaction to suffering and disease. Why I have taken the liberty of reproducing Kafka is because I believe that when my friend mentioned dignified exit he actually wanted to know how one could avoid such a situation.

While in Ivan Illich it is a question of internalisation of the reality of death and acceptance of the eventuality, in the case of Gregor Samsa it is the physical suffering one is subjected to, where he is reduced to a dependency on the external world of relationships surrounding him, over which he has no control. This is precisely what I meant when I said in my previous post “As to a dignified exit one should ask oneself as to what he feels is a dignified exit, whether it is by a way of leaving behind a legacy, an everlasting contribution or an exit without suffering. While the first is in our hands, the second is beyond us

When all else is well we can always talk about taking on social responsibilities, making our life more meaningful by contributing to the betterment of the conditions in which our brethren live. When we say giving back to society does it mean you are giving ‘back’ after having received whatever you had wanted? This may sound a bit harsh but this is not for judging anyone’s motives, rather it is to emphasize the fact that it cannot be an overnight transformation. When someone told me that he intends taking up social work after retirement, I paused to reflect. It is possible only if we have developed those feelings of empathy and compassion during the course of our lives. It is not a pastime, it is a commitment.

Similarly when someone says that it is what the Creator intended it to be, try telling that to someone who is actually suffering from a debilitating disease. He has nothing else on his mind except the pain he is undergoing. I am a great believer in God and destiny but that does not take away the fact that when the pain is there, it is real. May be at the end of it all when the reality of pain is accepted, God and destiny will be a soothing balm and there will be hope. A man of faith will definitely derive strength to face up to the sufferings.

We have seen persons who are bedridden, paralytic unable to look after themselves. We have seen persons suffering from dementia and Alzheimers with the slow deterioration of their mental faculties reduced to a stage of non existence while existing. What happens to them? How is it possible for them to ensure a dignified exit? We have seen caring children and discarded parents. So there are no real answers. May be we ultimately have to run to ‘destiny’ to explain away the reasons for the human condition.

I take the words of one of my friends who asked the question “how well prepared are we to meet this situation?” and proceeded to answer this by saying “let us start with the self”. There are certain things in life that we cannot choose or change for that is what is destined and where there is destiny there is God. You may believe in Karma and many births or you may believe that there is nothing beyond this life, but your quest has always been to ensure you lead a better life and a dignified exit. I would quote here Dr.S.Radhakrishnan’s words in ‘The Hindu View of Life’ that “the cards in the game of life have been dealt to you and how you deal and play with them will determine whether you win or lose”. 

1 comment:

Varsha said...

I,as you know, do not believe in God, therefore karma and destiny do not mean anything to me. I am living this life to the best of my ability. All the pains, disappointments, failings, are mine alone. I am responsible for all these as I have played my role either well or badly. i do not believe that it was all destined. If I did then I would leave it all to fate and not bother about planning and executing things as I wanted to. Right or wrong the decisions were mine alone. As a result of it I either got happiness or sorrow.
I need to plan my life as I wish to lead it. If ill either mentally or physically,I think we all have enough symptoms coming to us to know what to expect. One therefore needs to take steps to secure the future. look after your own health, eat carefully, walk regularly, think healthy, invest in your own self and I am sure life can be lived usefully and fruitfully. Those who worry and are pessimistic may find it depressing, but then this one life where we can control our own life needs to be lived intelligently.