The Life That Is Not Life

“I’m getting ready for my trip now.”

Aurelia Brouwers (who chose to be euthanized at age 29 in the Netherlands)

You said it was the humane thing to do
__For those condemned to “endless pain and strife,”
Yet did you ever pause to ponder who
__Would be assigned “the life that is not life”?

You said it would end hardship without hope,
__Spare those doomed the indignity of fate;
You scorned any fear of an unseen slope
__As mere lunacy, nothing to debate.

So, when asked where the margin would be drawn
__Across this dim continuum of death,
You refused to render a Rubicon;
__Instead, you gave some airy shibboleth.

“When a life is no longer life,” you said,
__“That’s the standard society will use,”
Careless that lurking in the haze ahead
__There might be a shadow we could abuse.

Yes, here where the dignified dead began,
__The epitaphs lend credence to your claim—
Futures hopeless, and more suffering than
__Any mortal medicine could tame.

Yet, in the Cemetery of Mercy,
__A darkness looms down there—below the rise.
That’s where the markers of this grassy sea
__Betray what pain-avoidance will devise.

The gravestones multiply like cancer cells,
__But not for cureless cancers do they bloom;
More and more the terminal tale each tells
__Is enduring sadness, not certain doom.

Let me show you an alcoholic one
__Who simply chose to forego the fight,
Or another for whom the brightest sun
__Could never seem to penetrate with light.

Others unalterably defective,
__(At least they perceived their own flaws that way),
And elder souls possessing years to live
__Convinced not to burden another day.

Oh, and look! Sprouting there—a newborn grave!
__Let’s examine this late resident’s grounds.
Let’s see what made the inhabitant crave
__A permanent home in an earthen mound.

A pink and red stuffed dinosaur stands guard
__Beside the gravestone of its fallen friend;
How can a visitor’s nerves not be jarred
__By what this childish token might portend?

And, behold, the writing upon the stone,
__The epitaph so delicate and fine—
Oh, Aurelia, your fate was unknown,
__And you were still young—merely twenty-nine!

Is it compassion to let someone die
__When suffering springs from a troubled mind?
Is it unmerited to question why
__We mock slippery-slopes while roaming blind?

You said it was the humane thing to do
__For those condemned to “endless pain and strife,”
Yet did you ever pause to ponder who
__Would then assume “the life that is not life”?

 

Ron L. Hodges is an English teacher and poet who lives in Orange County, California. His works have appeared in The Road Not Taken, Ancient Paths, Calvary Cross, and The Society of Classical Poets Journal 2015 and 2016. He won the Society’s prestigious Annual Poetry Competition in 2016.


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9 Responses

  1. James Sale

    A powerful poem Ron – very powerful: the details accumulate and finally overwhelm one with the sense of loss, and also – and society hates this word – judgement. That one so young (or of any age to be honest) thinks that life is not to be lived is so profoundly wrong; for there have been so many examples of people in dreadful circumstances who have forged extraordinary lives from the very disabilities that have afflicted them. It is the unintended consequence of secularism and its lack of first principles that this is seen as acceptable and valid. Well done, Ron. This is great reading.

    Reply
    • Ron L. Hodges

      Thank you so much, James! I appreciate you taking the time to read my poem.

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    The Nazis has a phrase, “Lebensunwertes Leben,” which means “life that is unworthy of life.” They used it describe persons whom they wanted to murder: the disabled, the chronically ill, the retarded, the mentally disturbed, and later on anyone who was considered subhuman.

    Don’t get sick in the Netherlands, folks.

    Reply
  3. Mark Stone

    Ron,

    1. My favorite line is: “The gravestones multiply like cancer cells,” with its perfect meter, simile, assonance and consonance. Tied for my second favorite are lines 3 & 10, with their perfect meter and sonic appeal.

    2. Since the debate about euthanasia is still taking place, and since using the present tense creates a sense of immediacy between interlocutors, I recommend you change stanzas 1-4 & 14 from the past tense to the present tense. For example:

    You say it is the humane thing to do
    For those condemned to “to endless pain and strife,”
    Yet do you ever pause to ponder who
    Will be assigned “the life that is not life”?

    3. Several quick thoughts. Should “newborn grave” be “newborn’s grave”? Also, if “newborn” refers to Aurelia, I don’t think of a 29-year-old as a newborn. Regarding “the terminal tale each tells,” I think it’s the person who is terminal, rather than the tale being terminal. Finally, in line 56, I wonder if “define” might work better than “assume.”

    4. I recommend putting more lines into perfect IP. Here are some possibilities:

    As lunacy, as if there’s no debate.

    Who simply opted to forego the fight,

    (Or who perceived their flaws to be that way),

    Aurelia, your fate was not yet known.

    5. This is a strong poem about an important subject. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
    • Ron Hodges

      Mark,

      Thanks for the useful and welcome feedback! Both “newborn” and “terminal” are used with ironic double-meanings in mind.

      Take care,

      RH

      Reply
    • Jacqueline

      I believe he is referring to the grave itself as being “newborn” essentially personifying the graves themselves. As he mentioned the multiply like cancer cells (something so dark and terrifying) but then also calls a grave “newborn” (something so miraculous and full of hope and love)…very interesting!

      Reply
      • Ron Hodges

        Yes, “newborn” should mean hope, yet, in this case, the grave is newly “born” from a philosophy that diminishes human life–that the life of “suffering” is not worth living. It is meant as dark metaphor. I know I shouldn’t be explaining myself; I promise not to do so anymore! 🙂

  4. Amy Foreman

    A well-written poem about an unspeakably sad topic, Mr. Hodges. The repeated stanza at the beginning and ending of the poem is quite effective.

    Reply

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