I watched the television show Fleabagrecently (an excellent mix of funny, poignant and wrenching) and was struck by a scene in which a feminist speaker asks her audience, “Would you give up five years of your life to have the perfect body?” The protagonist and her sister raise their hands, but no one else does. We, the television viewing audience, are invited to think the sisters are shallow. We woke viewers understand that life is more important than having the perfect body, as much as we may complain about the latter.
This fable of Jean de La Fontaine’s came to mind.
A wretched man called out for death to save him every day.
The melancholy man said : O Death! How beautiful you are to me. Come quickly. Come end my cruel fortune.
Death thought that in coming she was obliging the man. She knocked at the door. Entered. Showed herself.
The man cried out: What do I see? Take this object away. It’s so hideous. I’m filled with horror and fright just looking at it! Stay back, oh Death! Oh Death, go away!
Maecenas was a gallant man (and close advisor of the first Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus).
He once said: Even if I’m impotent, legless, gouty or armless, so long as I’m alive, that’s enough. I’m more than happy.
Never come, oh Death! is what we all want to say to you.
I don’t want to die anytime soon. Dying scares the crap out of me. But I also don’t want to be so unhappy I’m counting the days until I escape my cruel fortune. That is, until Death actually comes knocking, and then I decide that my unhappy situation isn’t so bad after all. Is quantity of life really more important than quality of life? Or does Maecenas (and La Fontaine) have it wrong?
When my father was dying, he made the decision to stop radiation treatments. He chose quality of life. I will never know if he shortened his life. It doesn’t matter. There’s no doubt he was happier in his last months than he would have been, sickened by radiation.
Society’s obsession with women’s bodies may seem like a small matter compared to cancer, but the amount of psychological (and physical) pain that…