A Story About a Story: An Open Letter

Dear Aurelia,
I have not had a fantastic 24 hours. Your comments, which I thank you for sharing with me before you posted them and asking me if I minded if you did, created within in me the type of panicky fear I have experienced only at the end of a close relationship or with loss in general. Partly they arise out of feelings of rejection, even if that is not logically based. Partly they arise out of fear of having to have extremely emotional discussions and not feeling at all up to the task. But you have been feeling similarly strong feelings of anger as a result of my story, and so it is entirely appropriate that I hear you and take my licks. I say that knowing that you are not intending to give me any licks at all, but just expressing the feelings of hurt and anger you have felt as a result of my story. So let me tell you of how I wrote that story and what I intended it to accomplish.

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A Discussion Worth Having

What follows is entry that was posted on my old blog that is receiving some discussion. As this old post cannot be commented upon in my new blog format, I am reproducing the entire entry and the comments received so far so that we can continue the discussion here. I hope this proves a fruitful discussion. I will enter it again soon. Just now I need a little time. Neil

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Confluence, Part II

confluence point

he had followed the gravel road on a whim
past the last gas station in missouri
on the approaches to the bridge
a checkpoint charlie of sorts
for gas refugees from the land of lincoln
past the lock and dam
where the adventurous and poor
trolled the turbulence with fishing lines
hoping for catfish, cursing the gar
that penciled the waters
the road snaked through farmland
on a reclaimed flood plain
which just as often was rereclaimed
by the rivers themselves
now it was sodden with large puddles from the summer rains
which sometimes slipped a corner over the road
he liked that
and didnÕt really care that his wild charges through
were muddying his chevy
hey, if it wasnÕt just a prizm
now of chocolate hues
it would actually be cool
plus he really wanted to see
the meeting of the waters
but how could it really be a point
as if it were a dot on a blank page
where two crisp lines became one
an angle, acute, tidiness
too tidy
confluence implied so much more
flow, fullness, chaos
he knew that now
fluid dynamics was not a blow off course
and so it was
a drunken line traced between two shades of muddiness
tumbling into one
and just there was the point
concrete benches and signs and paths
forever fixed beside, upon, beneath
the deluge
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Confluence, Part I

meeting of the waters
he had not been known for perfection
but with that date he had come pretty close
that first date
a tiny bouquet of flowers
homegrown, simple
tied with a simple string
held in a tiny bottle
a hand drawn map tracing their itinerary
a film
a movie would not do
foreign, french, subtitles
he had forgotten now where they had dined
it was good to forget some things at least
it had all ended
at the meeting of the waters
by union station
he had remembered his mother talking of it
fountains, figures, flowing water
and it had been
the perfect endpoint
near where the old lines had all ended
at the junction of trains and lives
this symbol of the wedding of waters
two figures, male, female
with attendant nymphs and sprites
forever reaching across a span
the waters mixing at their feet
the mists blessing their naked bodies
and they too had stood
on the lip of the fountain
facing each other across the span
of shy distance
debating whether to take the plunge
into its waters
they never did
but he always remembered themselves there
smiling, hair wet, eager
lacking only the nerve to kiss

Frist Steps

There was a time when I could not hold back, for good or for ill. There was a time when I could not simply listen to a conversation involving issues upon which I had deep opinions and keep silent. I had to let my opinions be known, both, wrongly, because I so valued my individual voice, I so believed I could bring clarity to the debate (my visions of being E. F. Hutton) and, rightly, because I really did want people to hear what I perceived to be the truth for their edification, political, physical, spiritual or otherwise.
It has been many years since that has been the case. And now, I generally remain silent, for good or for ill. Why? Perhaps it was one too many debates in the library in which I was the sole conservative, one time being brought to tears by a group of gently, though persistently, mocking friends, and they were friends. In other areas, I became far less confident of my opinions. And so now I have more or less acquiesced to the postmodern wisdom that if you want to get along you should not discuss religion or politics. Now I keep my discussions limited to the likeminded, or, if I am brutally honest, to people I think may be easy marks for a philosophical mugging.
Yeah, it really is pathetic. Not, simply the seeking of easy targets, but the result of what the silence does to my relationships with people, what it does to me.
Silence=writing off. In increments of apathy, I write off my friends and colleagues with whom I disagree, not willing to expend the emotional energy to engage in thoughful, listening, processing, responding dialog. Not willing to share what, in many cases, I believe to be eternal truths, just because it will very likely cause me emotional bother or potentially pain. And it harms me as I sit silent, suffering the silting of my internal reservoir of thoughts and feelings.
But there are stirrings. Last night listening to Charlie Rose, there was a stirring as I listened to a biologist and political scientist discuss Bill Frist’s restatement of his position on stem cell research. There was annoyance, there was churning, there was a desire to speak. But today, I did not immediately rush to blog or discuss, I actually took the time to read what Senator Frist had to say. I hope it marks the beginning of engagement on my part of a completely different order.
First, I appreciate the tenor of Senator Frist’s speech. I believe that he genuinely does want to help people by furthering the science of embryonic stem cell research. And I believe that he is making what he feels is a genuine compromise by finding a use for embryos that would be discarded anyway, those that are the byproduct of fertility treatments. Yet, this seems nconsistent with the dignity he accords the embryo:

I am pro-life. I believe human life begins at conception. It is at this moment that the organism is complete — yes, immature — but complete. An embryo is nascent human life. ItÕs genetically distinct. And itÕs biologically human. ItÕs living. This position is consistent with my faith. But, to me, it isnÕt just a matter of faith. ItÕs a fact of science.

Our development is a continuous process — gradual and chronological. We were all once embryos. The embryo is human life at its earliest stage of development. And accordingly, the human embryo has moral significance and moral worth. It deserves to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported.

But, just as I said in 2001, it should advance in a manner that affords all human life dignity and respect — the same dignity and respect we bring to the table as we work with children and adults to advance the frontiers of medicine and health.

It seems a more consistent pro-life position would not be to find a use for these embryos but rather to address the reason for their existence in the first place. As good of a desire as it is to want to have children of one’s own, even this noble desire should not lead to the setting aside of a consistently pro-life ethic. Embryos should not be created that are not going to be implanted. Even the procedure of using multiple embryos to see which will be implanted seems highly suspect. A more basic question is to what extremes people, particularly Christians, should go to have a child of their own when there are so many children that need to be adopted and cared for.

I know that one of the responses to my arguments will be that I do not know either the pain of childlessnes (never having attempted the requisite procedures to give it a whirl) nor the pain of seeing a relative suffer from a debilitating disease that might be lessened through stem cell derived treatments (however far down the pike they may actually be). And both these contentions are largely true. But this type of reasoning is surely some type of logical fallacy (appeal to emotion, I believe). I am not devoid of emotion, though, and I can imagine what it must feel like. I know what it feels like to have a niece who has suffered through numerous surgeries and a great deal of pain in her young life. Even so, though I might indeed feel strongly a certain way, there must be other considerations that constrain my feelings.

If Frist believes embryos to be nascent life, to be humans (and he consistently refers to the gamete suppliers of such embryos as parents), I do not see how he can, even temporarily, allow for conditions in which they are used and discarded, no matter how noble the end. It would be better to morn the embryos already so created and abandoned and take steps to see that more do not join their orphaned ranks.