It is beginning to seem possible that birth -- as well as the subsequent life cycle that follows it -- may be a serious safety risk for all those involved.
-- the Onion*
He made himself nothing
-- Philippians 2:7 (NIV)
No doctor ever saved a life. So far, every doctor's every patient has died, or is expected to.
In the last century and a half, doctors gained powers to delay death. Sometimes they give us options about how, or when, or for what we die. I did not have to die of a ruptured appendix at the age of forty-four, but was given the option of living a second half of my life, doing the things I've done, learning the things I've learned, loving the ones I've loved -- for which I am grateful. These are the meanings of my life since then. Yes, I gladly took the option.
A doctor once said to me, "I have good news. You'll die of something else." I laughed and was glad, for it really was good news. I will die of something someday, but not now. That's what a cure is: you don't have to die right now of this, but can die some other time of that. And we are usually glad for the option.
And yet sometimes the cost of a cure is high, and various cures must be weighed against each other. Sometimes a cure is worse than the disease. And sometimes there is no cure to offer, for this is what one will die with. It has been thought that such a moment terminates medicine. But not so: this is not the end of medicine. In such a time the doctor's work resembles mine: the doctor is now exposed as a counselor. This is called palliative care.
One can endure great pain, incur great expense, wait out great passages of time, in the hope of a cure. But if there is no cure, one wants a different schedule of benefits. One might want, right now in this time of sickness, to be relieved of pain. One might hope to avoid annihilative expenses. One might want to spend the time not in a fruitless quest but on a fruitful presence to something, someone.
This kind of contract begins with a renunciation. I am not here, says the doctor, to do what doctors do. I am not here to cure your disease. If we are agreed on this, I can help you live with your disease, even if the disease is killing you. I have tools and technologies, compassion and skill. What is it you most want in this time of sickness?
A counselor's work also begins with a renunciation. I am not here, says the counselor, to fix you. Or cure the "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to." Or relieve you of the need to die. If we both agree that I am not here to fix you, then I might help you live with your brokenness, your shocks, your need to die. What is it you most want in this time of mortality?
The hardest part of it comes at the beginning, as we begin again and again. The hardest part is to keep it clear that I am not here to fix you. Because I want to fix you. It's hard to look into your brokenness, so I want to squirt in some medicine, sew you up, suture and bandage you -- there, no more of that. And this would make me feel powerful.
And you want me to fix you. You want me to make your death and grief go away.
We can't help it. We're only human.
But sometimes, having thrown every tool and device, slogan and ideology, into the struggle and lost them, we stop and there is silence because nothing is left to say. We are finished. Done. Kaput. Out of breath. We remember that humanness can't be fixed, and that's when it begins. Don't just do something! Sit there! The healing starts. Some would say, the Glory of the Lord, descending on cables like a set piece into your scene. Nothing to be said. Just a little music, please maestro, to cover the creaking of the pulleys.
Some of the followers of Yeshua said that he had poured himself out, emptied himself of power, in order to defeat the power of death. Regardless of those metaphysics, we know that Yeshua was a Jew, one of those whose national identity was a rescue of victory from utter defeat. Where there is no cure there may be a kenosis. You have to die before you can push the stone aside.
*"World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent," Vol. 31 Issue 2 (January 22, 1997)