The first thing the medics tell you after the accident and the last thing the surgeon tells you before the amputation is “You’ll be all right !”, “You’ll be fine”, “Relax ! Nothing to worry about !” It’s what we ourselves say when we witness an accident, or when one of our children is hurt or taken ill. People need to be reassured, to be comforted, to be encouraged, to find the courage to be confident that they will, indeed, be “all right”.
Sometimes we know they won’t, but we tell them they will anyhow. No one will blame us for the white lie nor insist we tell the poor bastard the truth. 9/11 : the guy, still conscious but half-buried under countless tons of debris, wants to believe what the fireman is telling him : “We’ll get you outta there, buddy !” It’s not going to happen and they both know it. So he gets a shot of morphine, and then another, and then another . . . Or worse, we tell those voices behind the rubble not to worry, help in on the way, the bulldozers will be here any minute. When all we can offer is hope, though there is none, we feel we must.
The doctor has diagnosed cancer. Six months to live. The family has been informed, but not the patient. They don’t want him to know. They want the doctor to hold out hope for their loved one, who doesn’t have to know it’s terminal. And, you never know, maybe it isn’t. Maybe he will recover. That’s what they’re praying for, after all. He could be told perhaps about the cancer but not the time he has left. Hope could well give him the courage to fight it. At all events, they don’t want to add fear to his pain. They owe it to him to let him die as peacefully as possible.
Sometimes, in the movies at least, one of the commandos racing for the helicopter after their dangerous mission, is shot, mortally wounded but still conscious. His buddies know they too will be killed if they try to help him or try to carry him – the chopper is too far away. “Leave no one behind” leaves room for exceptions. Anyhow he still has his pistol … That’s the only hope he has – to avoid being taken prisoner and tortured.
Apart from such dramatic circumstances, we have always had to face the ordeal of dying, even painlessly, but wondering, worrying, about what – if anything – will happen after we die. Surely we are not going simply to cease to exist ! This need to believe in an afterlife created hope (but also fear …). Hope is religion’s most appreciated product.
It is not an accident that Christianity’s sacred books are called “God-Spel”, “Gospels”, “Good News”. No worries, mate ! You’ve had it rough; life’s not been kind, people have been even worse. You’re sick, you’re suffering, you’re broke and you’re all alone. But you’ll be OK. There is a beautiful life waiting for you. This bloody life will soon be over, and then the fun starts !
“If you get to Heaven before I do,
Just bore a hole and pull me through.
All my sins are ta-ken aw – a – a – a – y !”