A few weeks ago, our old male cat died. I’m not wired to need a pet, but my wife is, so after reading up on cat dander, dander supression and such (we have allergic family members), we adopted a Calico cat, 10 months old, a week ago.
I fear she had lived in cages continuously since weaning, but a week later, she seems to be overcoming her timidity about freedom quite well. Even I, pet-indifferent though I be, can anthropomorphize enough to be glad of that.
The adoption, oddly, got me thinking about death again: Even if I live well beyond my three score and ten (which I’ve already attained, and which longevity I’m striving for at the gym), this young cat is fairly likely to outlive me.
As a religious matter, I’m admonished that mindfulness of death is salutary, and I don’t think I’m being morose about it. One of my favorite homilists spots me by almost a decade, and fairly regularly quips that he “hasn’t got time” for this or that nonsense because his clock is running down (he cranks out new books regularly). I suspect that a similar sense has emboldened me to take on the deathworks in my own small way.
In addition to just reaching our individual “sell-by” dates, unknown to any but God, human beings make themselves deathly sick in various ways, seemingly voluntary but subjectively compulsive.
My personal favorite is gluttony, so once again, I’m using MyFitnessPal to count calories, aspiring to descend from morbid obesity to mere obesity (“try to lose 10%,” says my doctor whose own weight I’ve seen yo-yo over the decades). After that, we’ll see; BMI 30 is a dream of mine.
And then there’s smoking, the all-purpose menace. I got that monkey off my back for good about 35 years or so ago, but I co-suffered with a treasured friend as her chain-smoking husband underwent open-heart surgery and cardio rehab only to be felled by after-discovered metastatic lung cancer, all in the space of 12 months.
If something gives our pleasure centers a buzz, the fear of death seems pretty powerless to stop us repeating it.
Syphilis and gonnorhea used to be the biggies in the sexual realm, yet they continued flourishing until antibiotics knocked them down for at least a while (don’t discount antibiotic resistance).
Still, when oral contraceptives and antibiotics seemed to make random fornication safe, fornication increased, so fear seems anecdotally to play some role, just as it plays a role in getting me away from the table and to the gym.
(Somehow, a whole new array of exotic STDs emerged, as if Someone were telling us “multiple sexual partners is not what you’re designed for.” The Important People drew a different lesson, and admonished us that random fornication wasn’t safe, after all, without good, old-fashioned rubbers. Oh well!)
Those of us who’ve avoided or ceased a particular vice can become unduly censorious about it. C.S. Lewis, drawing an analogy that I only vaguely recall, reminded his readers that the sinfulness of gluttony had never led Christendom to ban the sale of liver pills. Today’s gluttons enjoy the modern version of those liver pills: statins, blood-pressure medications, insulin and milder meds for control of the stuff that raises A1C levels — for each of which I personally am grateful.
So how can I begrudge anyone the emerging miracle of HIV eradication by stem-cell treatments, of which there appear to be two cases so far? Even I, “cisgendered” and hetero though I be, can empathize enough to be glad of that.
But do put them in context:
Scientists are struggling to find a cure for HIV, a virus notorious for hiding in the body and evading attempts to flush it out. Nearly 37 million people have been infected world-wide over the past four decades. While more than 21 million take drugs that keep them alive and reduce the spread, an estimated 1.8 million people were newly infected in 2017.
(Wall Street Journal) Two cures in 37 million cases isn’t “WOOHOO!!!” just yet.
But it’s a small lifework, though less consequential so far than antiretroviral drugs that merely keep HIV at bay.
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