On the Unremarkable Processes of Life

I had a relatively minor surgery last week and thus had more than the usual amount of time to sit around reading, especially about healthcare, medicine, and most of all its incredible rising cost.

From Craig Bowron’s most recent article in the Washington Post comes an excellent meditation on dying in the 21st century, on par with Atul Gawande’s work in the New Yorker.

For most of us living with sidewalks and street lamps, death has become a rarely witnessed, foreign event. The most up-close death my urban-raised children have experienced is the occasional walleye being reeled toward doom on a family fishing trip or a neighborhood squirrel sentenced to death-by-Firestone. The chicken most people eat comes in plastic wrap, not at the end of a swinging cleaver. The farmers I take care of aren’t in any more of a hurry to die than my city-dwelling patients, but when death comes, they are familiar with it. They’ve seen it, smelled it, had it under their fingernails. A dying cow is not the same as a person nearing death, but living off the land strengthens one’s understanding that all living things eventually die.

Somehow the quote ties together a number of disparate threads on life and death in the media recently, from Teju Cole’s comment that drone strikes have given us an empathy gap to the death of a young woman in a lion cage this week and the salt-of-the-earth farmers in John William’s brilliant Stoner (who should get credit for the title).

Bowron has another excellent piece from 2009 online here.

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