My mom was diagnosed with and began treatment for advanced colon cancer. I took the leap, and the loan, and am now enrolled full time in college. Here is a recent draft of a paper I am supposed to be writing for my philosophy class on Descartes. It’s the best I can do.
Descartes compares us thinking of “a hill without a valley” to “think of God (that is, a supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking a certain perfection), than to think of a hill without a valley.” How can one exist without the other?
I first encountered Descartes in Math class, when we learned about his Cartesian coordinate system, and the teacher credited him with discovering the Pythagorean Theorem, but I just looked it up to check the spelling, and it is credited toPythagoras.
More research needed on my part, obviously, but I digress. I am fascinated by the idea of a connection between mathematics and philosophy, the idea that math is one of the few certainties in life, or mathematics exist independent of human quest, so they are in fact discovered, not invented. Perhaps my favorite, “ According to Formalism, mathematical truths are not about numbers and sets and triangles and the like — in fact, they aren’t “about” anything at all.”
Math has always been a difficult subject for me, so the idea that my desire to study philosophy might require math skills is more than a bit frightening. I have spent enough hours, and wasted enough dollars; sitting on different psychiatrist’s couches to know that it is entirely possible that my difficulty shall we say with math is a result of spending the first twelve years of my life with a father who had a PhD in mathematics. An abusive father with a doctorate in Math! It gets even more fun! I get so much more important feeling sorry for myself. I get to wear the victim’s t-shirt, since I not only lived through child abuse, my father then let his story end with a suicide. Bravo! Give me my prescriptions now; I will get high legally.
I knew there had to be something more than sitting and repeating these stories over and over again. I wasn’t getting better. I was stuck in the past. I wanted answers. Maybe I’m just not that great at math. I wanted to know why others formed friendships, fell in love, married, had children, lived in a house and drove a car to and fro. I was too petrified to get behind the wheel. I still haven’t jumped that hurdle yet, but my forties aren’t far, and didn’t John Lennon sing that life begins at forty before he was shot at that very age? Over thinking things can be a curse.
I disagree with Descartes’ comparison of a hill without a valley to thinking of the lack of God’s existence. In fact, outside of mathematics, I find him irritating and the reading of his words to be a chore. I cant call his reasoning valid, because it seems to me that he has used enough words and put them together in such a way as to make the reader think, which is honorable in its own right, but after I scratch beneath the surface of the words and turn them over, rearranging them in my mind; I cant say that he’s said much of anything of meaning at all.
I have been sitting next to my mom’s bedside as she battles cancer for just long enough to know that my paper is late. I have missed classes and should have emailed you but I’ve been in waiting rooms, or by her bedside, away from the internet. My mom came out of her morphine haze long enough last night to tell me she loves me, and that it is her wish for me to return to school. Except her words were more along the lines of, “Get your ass back in school.” I want to have a rewind button, to go back to the start of this winter, my first full time term and do it again the right way, attending every class, getting all of my homework in on time, and of course taking out the shocking cancer diagnosis that rocked everything until I couldn’t even remember to drink, eat, or sleep. I did bring my school books with me to the hospital, and seeing as how I have paired your class intentionally with The Bible As Literature course it has made for some interesting reading. There’s a lot of philosophical questions surrounding death. You said that in one of the first classes. It is true. We are all dying slowly, or quickly. There’s no rewind button for this. Through it is the only way out, but I did realize how much I have looked elsewhere in my life for the very things that I should have been looking for within.
I have no support in favor of or against the existence of a supreme being. The science certainly doesn’t exist. The concept can be at times comforting and at other times infuriating. If there is a supreme being, this being has sat through the horrific atrocities that have befallen those no different than you and I? Although I am an atheist, or a hopeful agnostic occasionally when I have a few drinks and pray, there is something about those with faith I envy. I do not regret walking away from the Catholic Church that I was raised in. I do, at times such as this, envy the peace that I see in those who truly believe in God.
If they pray and their wishes come true it can be the work of god, even described a miracle. If they pray and their prayers aren’t answered in the way they wanted, it is god’s will. They can say it was god’s plan; it’s in god’s hands, the lord works in mysterious ways. I envy it, but I can wrap my mind around it. Some prayers are answered, others are not. I’d call that coincidence, not the work of a superior being. Have you ever seen that website, “Why Doesn’t God Heal Amputees?” Worth a look, I think.
A few years back I started thinking about the difference between hope and faith. I can plant a seed in my garden, water it, and tend it, baby it along after it has (hopefully) sprouted. I can’t plant a seed in my garden and have faith that it will grow, flower, and bare fruit one day. I can only hope, and maybe give it a hand.
What would it take to change my mind? That’s a tough one. Did you have to throw that in at the end? I suppose that if God floated down to me on a cloud I’d be cynical and jaded still, especially taking into consideration the large amounts of hallucinogenic drugs I did in the 80s. Perhaps, if we had a chance to talk, and maybe I could ask some questions I might be able to believe. I don’t know. Looking at death now everyday as a very real possibility as I visit my mom in a ward directly located next to the maternity ward, well let’s just say that I’ve had more questions than answers lately.
I read a book last year, “Adieux A Farewell to Sartre”, by Simone De Beauvoir. I was struck by a passage she wrote that read, “His silence does not separate us. My death will not bring us together again. That is how things are. It is in itself splendid that we were able to live out our lives in harmony for so long.”
I was stunned by her matter of fact words, dripping with certainty, albeit letting the reader into what is one of the cruelest aspects of love, the loss of the loved one. Yet she felt no separation in the silence. I knew then when I thought of the man I had met and fallen in love with many years ago, that I could never write such words as she. It could be the fact that I was and am by circumstance unable to be with the man I love that made me feel that this time here with him was not enough. I will not deny the presence of hope that still remains there; hope that one day we might be able to live out our lives together. I still cannot imagine losing him to death and not hoping for more, a chance to meet again. It was then after reading that book and seeing how clearly I struggled with a statement such as, “We will not meet again.”, that I realized that I am still far from knowing exactly what it is that I am certain of, with the exception of love. I believe in love. I have no faith, but hope remains.