Life in the Palace

Destiny is not enough.


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Who is watching us?

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Freedom: it’s something we all prize. America proudly proclaims itself to be the land of the brave and the land of the free. It could easily be argued that a life without freedom is hardly worth living.

But what are we trying to obtain freedom to do? To make our own choices? To define our own future? Few of us would argue that we are free from the turning hands of Fate. If our life can turn on a dime, if the plane can veer off course and bring down the tallest building in NYC, if disease can rob us of our loved ones, if the right combination of numbers can bring sudden millions; how can we suggest that freedom buys us the chance to choose our future?

So what does our freedom buy us? Maybe the chance to make our own mistakes. To run down the side of  a mountain in a giant hamster wheel because some man in a bar dared us to. To find love and hold onto it with all our might. We often assume reflexively that freedom is the freedom to do as we choose without repercussions.

We also expect that technology will increase our freedom. Our phone will mean we never lose touch with our loved ones. The funny thing we saw on the way to work can be immediately photographed and saved for prosperity. When my music collection can go wherever I go, I can dictate the soundtrack of my life.

The same technology that gives us freedom can also curtail it. Governor Christie is battling for his future political life in a scandal that started with an email. A trail of computer files has led to the downfall of countless collectors of child pornography. In these cases, one might argue that the absence of freedom to do harm is a sacrifice to the greater good.

In a move worthy of George Orwell, the Ukrainian government was able to pinpoint cell phones in the vicinity of anti-government protests and send threatening text messages. Following the outcry over the NSA recording phone calls in the USA, we see that even the freedom of private citizens might not be as free as we hoped.

Should this send us into a frenzy of anti-government protest? Should we all take to the hills ready to protect our families from the men in black? Maybe it’s time to recognize that we were always being watched.

We have never had the freedom to conduct our lives unobserved. All our deeds have been noted and duly recorded, and not by Santa or the NSA. As the illusion of freedom without being called to account for our choices falls away, we see that we were always required to make choices that would withstand the test of scrutiny. We are being watched and come the final accounting we will be free to be judged by the content of our character alone.

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When Death Hangs in the Balance

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Pontificating from armchairs across the country, the nation has watched as the parents of Jahi McMath fought to keep their daughter on life support and the husband of Marlise Muñoz fights to take her off life support. Our TV screens are filled with a slew of experts passionately defending each side of the argument. When does life start and end? What does it mean when the brain is dead but the heart is still beating?

In the Western world, nine out of ten deaths are due to aging. Then we know what to do. Granny doesn’t wake up one day and we mourn her passing but there is no debate as to whether or not she died.

It’s the other one out of ten cases when we have problems. When it was too young, too soon, too unexpected. It’s harder when medical science gives us the chance to hold on, to keep our precious daughter or to give the unborn child a chance to live. Then we have to create a definition of what it means to die. When medicine can give a body life almost indefinitely we are asked to choose when death comes.

Most of us are not ready to do that. We watch the drama unfold on our TV screens and we shake our heads and bemoan the fate of someone else. We don’t open the Scripture and our hearts. We don’t sift through medical journals and weigh up philosophical arguments. We let the questions go unanswered and hope we never have to decide.

But there’s a one in ten chance you’ll be the one whose death lies in the balance. If not you, then maybe a loved one. Perhaps, it’s worth dedicating at least the same amount of time you spent filling in your tax return, to understanding the nature of death.  Then, when the time comes and the doctor is waiting for a decision, you know what you want to do. After all it is only death and taxes that we can be sure to see eventually.