I am not a raconteur.
Let me just record here a real-life incident that I recently came to know of and that caused non-trivial perturbations to my thoughts. It strongly brought back to me some of the non-academic questions about which for the past decade and more I have been pondering off and on and even today I actively continue to search for their answers either through personal or indirect experiences. Questions which I believe are very crucial to my life and whose answers can have far reaching consequences.
So how did I get to know of this incident that I am trying to narrate? I have just now completed my BSc.(Hons.) course in Physics at Chennai Mathematical Institute and Howrah is what can technically be called as my home-town (I am not sure whether I have anything in common with Howrah or whether Howrah has anyway influenced me!) I was travelling in a train from Chennai to Howrah after my last semester was over. On of my co-passengers was a doctor and this is an experience of that doctor which he narrated to us.
One day a well-to-do and married male patient came to this doctor with some kind of a tumorous growth happening at various points in one half of his face. Preliminary investigation revealed it to be a cancerous growth and that it had spread to critical areas like the eye and nose and the palate. The doctor realized that it is a complicated case and after consultation with his colleagues concluded that the only possible "cure" for this is to do a massive surgery on that side of the face and remove all the infected regions. There was no way out but to remove the eye and one-half of the nose and almost everything on that side of the face. Then a plastic surgery would have to be done to cover up all the voids and deep scars that would be created. To remove whatever malignant cells that might remain a round of chemotherapy had to be done.
This grave situation was informed to the couple and seeing no way out they conceded to the operation. The couple realized that they would need to liquidate some of their assets to finance the whole operation. While the husband was admitted to the hospital, the wife started bringing to him regularly papers and documents relating to their various properties like land owned etc. These were officially owned by the husband and hence his signature was required to sell them or mortgage them.
Eventually the operation was done. For the doctors there was a great sense of achievement that this immensely risk prone operation could be completed and the person was alive and healthy. But on more practical grounds now the person's face was a scary thing to look at. It was half a face and the other half was a flat sheet of skin. The wife almost fainted when she saw him after the operation.
Now the guy was on constant medication and the wife had to regularly buy and bring to him the medicines. The doctors noticed that the wife was uncomfortable spending time in the hospital and was not getting habituated to the typical smell that pervades a hospital.
Gradually the frequency of visits of the wife started to decline and finally she stopped coming.
Now the doctors were faced with the question as to how to keep procuring the medicines for the patient. So the doctors decided to keep giving to him whatever could be salvaged out of the stock of free samples that any hospital has. Thus the doctors managed to complete the cycle of medication and the guy was eventually released.
He walked out of the hospital alone and with half a face but without the tumorous growth.
After a few months this guy returned back to the hospital with a face and body that could hardly be called human. The doctor said that even seasoned doctors got considerably shocked to see him. His entire face had swollen up and the standard structures on the face like eye, nose and lips were indiscernible. It was a weirdly shaped lump of flesh to say the least. The doctor said that his face with the numerous tumours bulging out of everywhere looked like a large cauliflower. He even had weirdly shaped protrusions coming out of every point in the body which have the lymph glands like the arm-pits, groins etc. For most doctors he was the scariest effect of disease they had ever seen in their life. For others he was looking just like a character out of some horror movie.
The guy had the following tale to tell: When he was discharged from the hospital he returned back to his home to find that it was completely empty. He had no property to live on. His wife had run away with some guy taking with her all the property. She could do this since he had already signed the papers. Now he could hardly sustain himself on his own and loss of his wife plunged him into deep sorrow. Out of frustration he took to alcohol and spent whatever money he had on it. As soon as he started drinking alcohol the tumorous growths across his body started and the disease backfired that the earlier treatment had suppressed to a considerable extent. The disease now came back in greater measure and devastated his physical appearance and abilities.
Now his wife had run-away with all his property and he was reduced to a mendicant on the street with a ghastly physical appearance that made him recede from his social circles as well which could have been his help during such difficult times.
The guy surmises and almost correctly so that his wife decided to run away as soon as she realized the amount of physical distortion the operation had caused to his face. Almost surely she couldn't accept the situation of having to spend the rest of her life with a man who had half a face.
Now this man having lost everything but his life had come back to the hospital with only one request to make to the doctors "Please kill me". So this man chose euthanasia ("mercy killing") as the way out of being in a state of complete physical mutilation including the face being distorted beyond recognition, financial ruin and simultaneous loss of his family.
I am not inviting any debate about whether this choice is right or wrong. I am convinced that in that given situation I would have made the same choice and I will consider that person to be some being beyond human who would not chose death in such circumstances.
The issue what this episode brings home is the issue of mutual physical acceptability in a relationship of romantic love. How much is physical beauty a factor in falling in love? Is there any meaning or truth in "romantic love" unless it is passionate?
This is something that I have debated within me since I was in class 5 or 6 and even today at the age of 21 it is a question that I am yet to settle for sure. I don't feel confident of the amount of truth that is there when a people talk of love as some form of an emotion that rises beyond all mortal factors and is supposed to be a bind of thoughts and hearts etc etc.
A critical synchronization of thoughts and emotions is necessary for anything to even qualify to be called love but is it even remotely practically feasible unless there is a mutual physical acceptance? At this point in my life I don't think I can.
I think if a question is posed to me as "Will you love your wife as before even if she loses a leg as a consequence of some accident and becomes dependent on the wheel-chair?" then my answer is an emphatic "yes". But if a question is asked as "Will your love your wife as before even if she gets physically distorted like that man?" then I am finding it very difficult to come up with a positive answer.
I would consider it to be my greatest achievement if ever in my life I can give an emphatic "yes" as an answer to the later question.
I somehow don't see how romantic love between 2 people can be sustained without mutual physical acceptance. That will require an amount of strength to rise beyond all mortal factors, that I am not sure whether any person is capable of having.
Is such a situation supposed to be the best test for true love or is such a test impossible for anyone to pass?
I don't know the answer to these questions and hence the reason why I am writing these articles.
These thoughts bring home a more central point. Can you think of one relationship in this world that can stand this situation? When 2 people stick together even when one is physically mutilated beyond recognition ? Yes..I think there is only one form of relationship that can sustain this...that between a mother and her child.
I somehow feel that motherhood is one bond which is beyond the reach of any other form of relationship and probably the only form which has a chance of sustaining such shocks like the one discussed above.
As I grow up this is something that I feel in stronger and stronger forms: "Mother" is probably the symbol of the strongest form of bond, most unshatterable support and the safest shelter.
The central question one needs to find an answer to is this:
Is it possible for two people engaged in romantic love to be passionately in love and yet love each other like a mother loves her child or are these emotions mutually exclusive?
Yudkowsky on My Simplistic Theory of Left and Right, by Bryan Caplan - Noted rationalist Eliezer Yudkowsky has written a response to my Simplistic Theory of Left and Right. With his kind permission, Eliezer speaks: -----------...
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