Defining “life” can be done in a variety of ways.
Here’s just a few:
By The Book
The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.
Maybe that’s what life is… a wink of the eye and winking stars.
By One’s Own Definition
It seems each human has three general choices:
- Adopt someone else’s definition of life
- Develop one’s own definition
- Some combination of #1 and #2
Life vs. Not Life
If you’ve had the experience of working with an attorney on your Living Will — aka Advanced Medical Directive: that written statement establishing your desires regarding medical treatment in circumstances in which you are no longer able to express informed consent — you might have, during this otherwise strictly legal/bureaucratic process, contemplated what, exactly, defines life, though in many cases, certainly not in mine, no one is there to explain to you that this is actually what you are making decisions about.
When choosing exactly when and under what circumstances you’ll refuse life-sustaining medical intervention, you pretty much have to decide if the alternative, whatever physical/medical condition you’ll end up in, constitutes actual living.
At 55 years of age, merely having a pulse and consciousness does not meet my definition of life. Breathing and eating and communicating can be done with the help of machines, but unless there was technology that could do that in addition to an Iron Man-style exoskeleton that can get me out on hiking trails, walking on a beach (remember, Pacific Northwest beaches mostly look like this) or, let’s say, strolling around the Farmers Market; AND some device that can restore my ability to play guitar, to feed and dress and bathe and otherwise clean myself; AND nothing like that is anywhere near available, then…
THAT is not life.
THAT is fundamentally NOT who I am.
Now, truthfully, however grim my ALS prognosis unquestionably is, if I was to be factually accurate, there is a chance, however microscopically thin, that a medical breakthrough could happen.
Question is, would this statistically unlikely-but-possible medical breakthrough need to completely reverse my condition and restore my level of functioning to what it was prior to disease onset?
Or, would I settle for a cessation of the disease’s progression, leaving me in my current condition, or maybe in a state of partial recovery?
Well, it would be SUCH a Howard thing if I was to forcefully reject the latter, insist on the former, go through the whole Death With Dignity thing, and then six months, maybe a year later, the big breakthrough comes.
The Will To Live Is Strong With This One
There’s a joke among some recovering alcoholics, I’m not sure of the source, that goes something like this:
Everyone has a finite number of drinks to drink in a lifetime, and alcoholics simply use theirs up much faster than other people.
If drinks were life experiences, well, I wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic, for that brings to mind some adrenaline junkie seeking danger at every turn. And I wouldn’t quite say I managed to suck out ALL the marrow of life up to Thoreauvian standards. (Although, I did once donate 100cc of my own bone marrow to medical research, and that was not a pleasant procedure, I assure you.)
BUT… I would say that I sucked a very respectable amount.
I’ve lived a full, rich life.
Of course there’s more I’d do if I could, but I’m good with the time I had and what I made of it.
My inner jury continues to deliberate the rest.