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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Smiling in the face of death...

Scott Simon this morning (on NPR's Weekend Saturday) interviewed Pauline Chen--Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality--who remarked on her experience during a dissection when she was in training. Her cadaver was a woman who died of pelvic cancer, so her body's muscle groups were severely atrophied. But the cadaver's facial muscles were not. Dr. Chen concluded that the woman had continued to engage in her life--talking, weeping, smiling, laughing--right up to its close. Perhaps we all do. It's a suggestive point. Richard Ford makes a similar one when he has his Frank Bascombe (narrator of The Lay of the Land) describe the feeling of relaxation or liberation that accompanies learning you actually have a potentially terminal condition--prostate cancer, in Frank's case--in contrast to the anxiety and constant tension induced by one's fears of suffering and death.

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