Mortality and Worthwhile Links: March 2014

This month made its major impression on me near its end, when in southern California on March 28 at 9:09 PDT an earthquake of magnitude 5.1 knocked over furniture, breaking plenty of glass and pottery but, happily, injuring no one. In the days that followed came more than 200 aftershocks, one of magnitude 4.1, dozens of them strong enough to give the house a good shake. Though at 5.1 this quake was nothing compared to the 9.2 that hit Alaska 50 years ago (on, ironically, March 27), the facts that we were positioned just a couple of miles from its epicenter and that it was shallow meant that we got a substantial shake. The trembling didn’t bother me overmuch (though the major aftershocks did wake me up several times over the following nights); what did catch and hold my attention during the main quake was the profoundly unsettling sensation of having millions of tons of rock shift suddenly beneath me. Don’t know how to behave in such a situation? Take a look here:

One does wonder how this (otherwise excellent) structure would stand up to serious shaking:

During March’s more stable days I visited various cinemas to watch three excellent movies (The Lego Movie; The Wind Rises; The Grand Budapest Hotel) and one very good one (Mr. Peabody & Sherman); and took in Lee Daniels’ The Butler on DVD. Other visual news (commencing with a plug for my own productions):

The (seeming) reality of space & time prevented me from taking in what is by all reports an excellent exhibition on Yoga, which has now moved from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco:

In any event, new research on the amplituhedron suggests that space-time, and dimensions, may in fact be illusory, as string theory (which includes gravity) has been found to be mathematically equivalent to quantum field theory (which does not) when the two theories describe the same event as if it is taking place in different numbers of dimensions. The cosmos, therefore, may have arisen out of pure geometry:

What has not altered, though, is mortality, which recently claimed the life of Houston yoga teacher John Coon, whom I had known for two decades or so. Born with polycystic kidneys, John enjoyed a rich life during the period of his first kidney transplant, then nearly died when his body rejected the second. The severity of that rejection ensured that he would not receive a third, so he was thereafter sentenced to a life of thrice-weekly dialysis, which he endured for some years. When a few weeks ago he went into a coma and was hospitalized, it was discovered that his DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order) had lapsed (I did not even know that they could be made for a finite period of time). Fortunately, the doctors eventually agreed to the spirit and intent of the document and allowed the plug to be pulled. John’s long-time caregiver Fatima was there when they disconnected life support. She told him it was time for him to go. He opened one eye, cried one tear, and left his body behind not long thereafter.

One moral to this story: review your DNR, Advance Directive to Physicians, and other such documents, and make sure that they are all up to date and remain effective!

Inspired by John’s demise, I decided to read The Last Lecture, a book composed by Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. After he discovered that his pancreatic cancer had stopped responding to treatment, Pausch decided to give a final public lecture to sum up what he had learned, and to convey the messages that he wanted to leave behind for his friends and family. Courage = grace under pressure. If only each of us could enjoy such clarity as we stare mortality in the face!

Pausch admits that he mightily fortunate to have had months to prepare for his demise; and given his condition John knew that he might go at any time. The passengers and crew on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 did not sadly enjoy this benefit. I was impressed by the following statement made by one grieving family:

in particular these words: “In the ultimate analysis, I am neither favored nor deserted. No one is.”

Wise words!