Surviving In This Very Moment…

My Personal Battle with Prostate Cancer … And Life!

Archive for the tag “Obligation”

Time as an Illusion: Thinking in Jewish 32

Nothing lasts forever say the old men in the shipyards
Turning trees into shrimp boats, hell I guess they ought to know
Guy Clark

Days up and down they come
Like rain on a conga drum
Forget most remember some
But don’t throw none away.
Townes VanZandt

Time as an Illusion: Thinking in Jewish 32

Time as an Illusion: Thinking in Jewish 32

The discussion last night at the parsha class concerned the Jewish concept of time, a concept that obligates us to make the best use of each and every second allotted to a productive life. This means that one is accountable for each of the 86,400 seconds in each 24 hour period. Quite a tall order one might think but upon careful consideration, perhaps not so difficult after all. There is a saying that one cannot step into the same river twice; while the river may be the same, the flow of water makes the river quite different that the one only moments before. The system is not circular, it doesn’t flow back onto itself or pour back into the headwaters of that river. To the contrary, the stream is a constant flow, ever changing while seeming to be quite the same. A life lived is much like a river. Existential time is immeasurably brief, a nano-second which is already gone. Our conscious hours leave behind traces of memory that, in turn, give us the illusion of a past while our plans and goals for what is to come provide the illusion of a future. But the only reality is the moment of existential time, a time that can neither be wasted nor saved; it can only be.

What is clear, however, is that the flow of existential time leaves us with the illusion of accomplishment or failure, or, perhaps, something in between. But that sense is but an accumulation of rapidly fading or quickly revised recollections, traces of a life lived that are neither the experience itself nor are they true representations of the lived-experience because they are always altered to represent the experience in the best light possible. Even events that are horrible, violent or otherwise utterly negative are, as one gets further away from the event itself, diluted, details fading away and when recalled tend to be recalled in the best light possible. Another thing that occurs with trace memory is that it is sometimes embellished to include things that did not occur in the event itself, thereby causing memory to be attuned to that which one chooses to recall rather than a true representation of the actual event itself.

That being said, the idea that one is obligated to make the best use of the time, even the briefest segment of the lived-experience, the immeasurable moment that is the absolute now, must mot be overlooked. To make the best use of the time allotted one must be fully engaged in positive activity. Engagement is much like the idea that athletes often speak of when they describe being in the zone. The zone represents an engagement that is 100% focused on the task at hand, so much so that one looses track of all other things such as time or food or sleep. While it is impossible to always be in the zone, it is the goal that counts. The full engagement is the goal, it is something to aim for. That does not discount those moments when the zone tends to be elusive. Like Townes said, “Forget most remember some  but don’t throw none away.”

Proximity: Love without Reward is Valuable

Faith is not a question of the existence or non-existence of God. It is believing that love without reward is valuable.
Emmanuel Levinas

Proximity: Love without Reward is Valuable

Proximity: Love without Reward is Valuable

Understanding the principle of first ethics, that I, in the guise of the self, announce my presence to the world, place myself in a state of proximity as I await the call of the other, with the words, spoken or thought, “Here I Am” is, in fact, an act of love. It is an act done without reservation and without expectation of reciprocation. In point of fact, proximity, that state of waiting for the call of the other, may never find closure. The self may wait for the call that never arrives; wait it must because to do otherwise would be to act without cause only to fulfill an egoistic need to be rewarded by others.

Waiting in a proximate state does not require one to be a hermit, to hole up in a cave isolated from all human contact. Quite the contrary, waiting always already occurs in the vibrant acts of being in the world, of being present, of accomplishing, of doing good deeds, of anticipating. It is a region of existence where time and space are meaningless unless one comes face-to-face with the call of the other, in which case the obligation to answer the call comes before all other action; even in the answering, the self cannot act with the expectation of reward or reciprocation; responding to the call of the other is a selfless act that always already takes precedence over reservation and expectation of reward. It is much like a gift given anonymously.

The anonymous gift received by a recipient establishes no possibility for reciprocation. If one does not know from whom the gift arrived, it is impossible to be obligated to return the favor. If a gift is given to someone, say as a birthday present, encloses a card and signs that card, the recipient is informally obligated to present the giver with a gift on his or her birthday. By creating a give and take obligation the gift is not a gift at all, rather it is an requirement for reciprocation that, if broken, creates resentment and distance, the very opposite of proximate space.

The anonymous gift is one that honors the concept that love without reward is valuable; so valuable that one need receive no recognition for one’s action. Another way of thinking of proximity is in the notion of hospitality, of opening up one’s personal space to the other without reservation or expectation of reciprocation. A personal example: every year my wife and I invite guests to our home to help celebrate important holidays. We host a Passover Seder in the spring, a Thanksgiving dinner in the fall and an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner on December 31st. Our motivation is to celebrate holidays with friends and family, to create a ritual that infuses meaning in our home and brings happiness to our guests. We do this without reservation and without expectation. Our doors are open to guests brought by those we invite and it never fails that someone brings a stranger to our home (at least for the first two celebrations). Some of our guests have never reciprocated; the dinners, however, are not held because we expect people to invite us back, they are hosted to bring people together for important celebrations without reservation, without hidden agendas, without requirement. Love without reward is, in this sense, a measure of proximity; space without time or distance defined by its very essence of waiting.

The Evidence for Being is Being

A light blue ribbon symbolizes prostate cancer

A light blue ribbon symbolizes prostate cancer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To paraphrase Emmanuel Levinas, the evidence for ontology is the existence of all of us. The problem with making ontology primary is that it simply asks the wrong questions. If one, for example, wishes to make intentional actions the basis of ontology, for each intentional act there are an infinite number of unintentional acts that coincide with it. Say I wish to read a book, in the act of picking up the book (intentional) as the first step in reading, I displace dust surrounding the book (unintentional), crinkle the elbow of my shirt causing additional wear on the fibers woven into the sleeve at the elbow (unintentional), displace a few skin cells that fall as dust (unintentional), cause a bit of wear on the edges of the book that scrape across the shelf (unintentional), and so on. The very idea that in accomplishing an intentional act, we leave unintended traces behind so as to alter the space in which we are interactive beings-in-the-world because we are also changing that very world in which we are beings-in-the-world. It is not enough to be intentional while interacting with the objective world around us if that world is changed even ever so slightly by our intentional actions.

So what does all this have to do with me and my cancer? After all, I am sitting here writing about me and my cancer because, especially as I recover from major surgery, there is little else for me to do but sit, read, think and write. So here goes a brief explanation.

If ontology is not primary, what then is? In Levinas’s world, ontology takes a back seat to ethics. Yet, an ontological announcement is the critical starting point of all of ethical behavior. That announcement, “Here I Am!” is made by the self to the other (person) without reservation and without expectation of reciprocation. It is a bold statement, allowing for the other to respond or not, something that is in the sole control of the other and not the self. Any response from the other is a call to action in which the self becomes available for the other, becomes responsible for the other, by embracing the differences presented by the other to the self. In short, as an aware self, my obligation is to make myself present, wait for a response that may never come, but when it does I am obligated to act for the benefit of the other even to the extent that I may not be benefited by my actions.

I may, for example, see another person drowning. If I am truly present for the benefit of the other, the call to save the person drowning is absolute and I must act even if, in the process of saving the drowning person I drown myself. Now, most ethical choices are not so extreme as to cause one’s loss of one’s own life, but, Levinas’s point is that the obligation extends beyond the self encompassing the selfless.

As I now am facing the objective world as a likely survivor of prostate cancer, I am clearly present in a way I never thought possible prior to this diagnosis. I still do not know if I am completely clear of disease; this will be answered either Wednesday or Thursday. What I do know, however, is that the original diagnosis provided me with a powerful lens with which to look at the objective world. One of the benefits of hearing a diagnosis of cancer is the ability to make the ethical choice to look at the objective world selflessly. Whether or not I am currently cancer free doesn’t much change that point of view. I am now present, Here I Am! I have the ability to reach out in a new and positive way to other prostate cancer, or any cancer patient if, and only if, they join me in this conversation. I have created the proximate space, the invitation to join me in working toward something positive, not necessarily a positive outcome of the disease, rather a lived experience that is both ethical and positive. The ontological announcement provides the pathway to an ethical life and for that I am most grateful.

Post Navigation


This site is the cat’s pajamas

cancer killing recipe

Just another site


Daily Thoughts and Meditations as we journey together with our Lord.


The silent camera


A Blog About Ordinary Life Told In Extraordinary Fashion!


the beauty of words and colors

Hebrew Hutong

(Almost) Jewish in Beijing and California


A weirdo unleashed. . .riding the spiral to the end.

Screwy Lew's Views

An egotistical flight of fancy into the random ramblings of a semi-demented mind.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman Online

An English Rabbi in New York

Gooseyanne's Blog

The everday ramblings of Anne and her Goose


Life after a tango with death & its best friend cancer

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Editor and writer. Interested in tiny things, unhealthy nostalgia, old jungle mixtapes, my little homestead, and my cats. Not to be fed after midnight.

JUMP FOR JOY Photo Project

sharing the joy of the human spirit in mid air around the world

Lavelda Naylor

Therapy Resources and Ruminations

♥ The Tale Of My Heart ♥

In your light, I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you.

%d bloggers like this: