Surviving In This Very Moment…

My Personal Battle with Prostate Cancer … And Life!

With Apologies to Emmanuel Levinas…Otherwise than Being

With Apologies to Emmanuel Levinas...Otherwise than Being

With Apologies to Emmanuel Levinas…Otherwise than Being

When faced with one’s own mortality, no matter whether this mortality is imminent or simply a close encounter, it is only natural to examine what life means and what contributions one may or may not have made to the world exterior to the self. My current bout with prostate cancer is a clear case of a close encounter with my own mortality and this encounter prompted me to explore just what it means to be able to draw breath, from where that ability originates and what contributions I made to the world that I inhabit as a sentient being. In fact, I have reached three basic conclusions:

  1. My being is defined by my being-in-the-world as I encounter other human beings and objects of the world around me.
  2. The so-called gift of life comes as a simple mathematical calculation, the probability of a single sperm uniting with a single ova during or shortly after coitus. A different sperm and I do not exist. The odds of my existence are astronomical, but here I am. To attribute my existence to a deity exercising control over everything is a waste of time unless that deity is, in fact, mathematical probability at work; a concept that leads one to understand the existential world I and you inhabit to be purposeless and absurd.
  3. As a teacher and scholar I have contributed a great deal to the world I inhabit. I am the co-author of a book on teaching writing, I published numerous articles, many of which have been cited by others as they extend the knowledge base about teaching and learning, I presented hundreds of scholarly papers at academic conferences and did so internationally, as a consultant I interacted with teachers and their students to expand their knowledge of teaching writing and, finally, I influenced many of my students to strive for excellence and many of those students are in contact with me to this very day.

In short, I am able to say that my life has made a difference in the world to which I am intimately connected by my very being-in-the-world. In ethical terms I stood (stand) ready to be responsible for the welfare of the other, to share my knowledge and skill with others, to stand ready to answer the call of the other without reservation or expectation of reciprocation. This level of responsibility, while not perfect, is a contributor to the most important aspect of my own lived-experience, that of personal integrity.

In this sense, I am able to honestly report that I am grateful for my cancer. It provided an opportunity to explore, in practical terms, those things that I hold theoretically dear. In the final analysis, it helped me confirm the practicality of those ideas offered as without practical applications. I am even thinking about a book exploring practical aspects of Levinas’s fundamental ethical obligation.

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4 thoughts on “With Apologies to Emmanuel Levinas…Otherwise than Being

  1. Roger,
    I really enjoy your blog. You are easy to read and understand and it is very clear you have contributed much through your vocation. I am thankful everyday for the teachers that have made a difference in my life and of course my children especially my son with severe autism. I only take issue with your premise on life ” being just a simple mathematical calculation”-your words not mind. Your “so called” life is a genuine gift just as my son with severe autism. To say my life has not been made harder by his existence would be an understatement, but I am grateful for him. He has taught me more than anyone else. I believe he was a gift from God as well as my other son Elijah who is a typical developing young man. God never promised us that life is fair. I hope you will learn from your thinking in Jewish classes that God does not control us like a puppet on a string. He has given us Freewill. It is as simple as that. You can go ahead and believe as you state, but I believe you were put on this earth for a purpose and God knew it before you ever would or could. If you think I am not mad at God at times, you can better believe I am. My life has been hit with alot of adversity, however I still choose to believe in a higher being. I am reminded by the great Mr. Hitchens who passed away from cancer . I do not think he ever proclaimed believing in God. I mourned his passing because he brought great intellect to the community of God Believers that was so needed to make sure we weed out the flakes that say so much shit in the name of God. If you moderate this and do not want to answer back, I understand. I really do not need a lecture as I totally understand your point of view. I just hope you do not mind me giving you mine.

  2. Alesia, not only do I not mind your giving me your point of view, I welcome it. When I was at Texas Tech I learned a grand West Texas phrase that went like this…”Boys, there’s always more’n one way to get to the roof!” When I write I do not wish to convert anyone or convince them that my own choice to not believe is one that is comfortable for everyone; I would hardly be true to myself or to readers if I were to deny these convictions. What is clear to me is that when I post a piece on this blog I am writing for me, to explore and clarify my own ideas. I would never be so arrogant as to lecture (I never did as a teacher and would not presume to do so now) another human being about anything. I believe in an honest and open sharing of ideas that may or may not lead to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, to exist as sentient beings embracing the absolute otherness of the other. This means to me that we must accept the other as we find him or her and embrace that otherness. Disagreement is always possible yet it is that very disagreement that, when understood as difference, is what is embraced. Our uniqueness is manifest in everything we do or say and the uniqueness of the other is embraced by the very notion that I, as self, do not have all the answers. I would argue that we are not so very far apart, you and I. We simply call things by a different name. I prefer the notion of probabilities governing the universe because I understand the concept and it makes sense to me while you prefer to invoke God. In either case, we are both trying to reach some understanding of an inexplicable infinity, an absolutely unknown infinite existence book-ending the lived-experience. I believe that this infinity is mirrored in the absolute uniqueness of the other (human being) with whom I meet face to face (or in this case, comment to comment) without reservation and without expectation of reciprocation. Thank you for joining in the conversation. I suspect that it is through these encounters that we both come closer to understanding not only each other but all others with whom we are honored to engage in conversation. Sorry for the length of this comment but you raised interesting issues that deserved an honest response. Happy New Year, I appreciate your input.

  3. Roger,
    Thank you! You do not even have to argue that we are alot alike. I know that we are. I appreciate your answer as it shows me you really care about another human being’s point of view even when uniquely different from your own. Alesia

  4. Pingback: Modernity and Ethical Engagement « Surviving In This Very Moment…

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