A right to life. And to choose.

A few months ago, I happened upon an article in Toronto Life about assisted suicide. Specifically, about a man who had helped people take their own life in secret. At the end of the article, there is a very long and heated “debate” going on in the comments section. I know, I know, don’t read the comments. But this is a subject that is important to me, as I believe assisted suicide should be a legal option for the terminally ill. So my curiosity got the better of me.

Naturally, there are strong reactions to the idea of being able to take your own life. Many people (like myself) who have witnessed the suffering of family and friends see assisted suicide as an act of compassion. Opponents of the idea label it as a coward’s way out, or something that will be a slippery slope and abused my those who don’t actually need it. And then there are those who think it’s wrong in the eyes of God.

Full disclosure: I don’t believe in God. I “practiced” religion until around the age of 12. Then my Mom allowed me to make my own decisions. I have no problem with those who do believe, though. In many ways, I admire their faith and commitment. What I do have a problem with is using the idea of a God as a reason to not allow something to become law.

In my (admittedly very subjective) experience, many of the opponents of assisted suicide invoke the idea that all humans have a “right to life” and therefore we cannot allow people to take their own lives. There’s a concern that people will be wrongfully coerced into using assisted suicide when they don’t really need to, or that they will die shortly before a drug was discovered that could have cured them. This is, in fact, exactly what was suggested by the most outspoken opponent in the comments on the article.

Most of his arguments stemmed from a column he wrote where he outlined the following scenario:

“A strong, healthy man suffers from a disease. He wastes away to a shadow of his former self. He is all skin and bones. Death is imminent. The doctors are telling him there is no cure, no treatment left. At this point, he considers assisted suicide to avoid the pain and suffering and maybe to save his family some of the money being spent on his care. He goes through with it. In a short time, he is killed by a physician. And the very next week, a new drug is discovered which could have allowed that man to make a complete recovery.”

Of course, that is always a possibility. But is it a realistic one? Or even remote? To me, this reads like a fantasy. It is talking in absolutes. If only someone didn’t kill themselves, a miracle drug would have been created a week later!

I will admit that this is a possibility, however remote. But if the terminally ill have a right to life, don’t they have the right to choose death? The idea with assisted suicide is that the patient chooses to end their life rather than endure an excruciating death. And yes, they are eliminating the unlikely possibility of being saved by a miracle drug. That’s their choice.

There seems to be a theme from the right to life crowd, which is that they claim making this law will make suicide and assisted suicide one in the same. I have yet to see any convincing argument as to why that would be true. I also find it interesting that they say you have a right to life, but apparently you don’t have a right to choose.

To me, our right to choose is as ingrained and essential as our right to life. In Canada, we have the privilege to make choices about our lives. I think, in the case of terminal illnesses, that should include being able to choose to die. It is not cowardly and it is not morally wrong. It, ideally, is an informed choice made because of the finite nature of existence. We don’t have to have our suffering and our death decided by nature. Certainly not by God.

Personally, I am thankful that our government is basing our laws in the reality in front of us. They are acknowledging that to be human is to have the right to live and, eventually, the right to choose to not.

If you’re interested in the subject of assisted suicide, I suggest you watch the documentary How To Die In Oregon. For or against, it’s moving to watch.

A Briefly Sober Reality

For the month of February, I have been participating in Dry Feb – an initiative to raise money for cancer research by not drinking for the month. I’d be lying if I said going sober for a month wasn’t motivated by selfish reasons. I’ve wanted to try to cut back on drinking for a while and I’ve tried doing it many times. Usually, I’d start with the goal of not drinking for a month but only make it one or two weeks before going back to my regular drinking routine. I figured with the incentive of raising money for the Canadian Cancer Society, I could make it the whole month. After 24 days, that’s proving to be true.

When I talked about having a “regular drinking routine,” that’s not to say I’m a heavy drinker. Like many people, my drinking heyday was in university. And a few more years after. Now, I will go out to a bar once or twice a week. Rarely will I have more than three or four beers. Somehow that still feels like too much to me. I keep wanting to cut down. Maybe that’s because I’m in my 30s and it feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do. But as much as I might cut back, I think I will always enjoy having one beer after a long day.

What I have noticed in my three-plus weeks of sobriety is how badly I want that one single beer at the end of a stressful day. I’m surprised how closely I associate beer with winding down. (Yes, I’ve read the studies that says it does the opposite.) If it weren’t for my sobriety being connected to a charity, I definitely would’ve cracked a while ago. A particularly long week at work left me smelling other people’s open bottles of beer just to get anything resembling a fix.

Luckily for me, I know I can enjoy a beer come March 1st. Now that work has slowed back down, I’m not exactly dying for a cold one. But I will certainly enjoy one next Tuesday. Aside from a break from drinking, this month has given me an appreciation for just how difficult sobriety must be for everyone out there staying sober for legitimate reasons. The normalcy of my life doesn’t depend on staying sober. My family doesn’t depend on it. My job doesn’t depend on it. I have the luxury of not having to face alcohol as a life-altering addiction.

I thought will-power would be getting through four weeks of depriving myself of booze. That’s nothing compared to having to change your whole life to avoid it. It’s nothing compared to putting in the genuine work of not giving into temptation. Because obviously our culture completely revolves around alcohol. It’s a part of pretty much all adult social events. Make no mistake, staying sober might be the act of not doing something, but it is without a question a very hard thing to do.

This might all sound like going sober has caused me to have some kind of epiphany. But that’s not the case. Abstaining from drinking isn’t changing my life. I don’t feel any different. I haven’t lost weight. (Though I do make better use of my weekend mornings.) The only real difference is a clearer realization of how powerful alcohol is, how dependent I am on it (if only for recreational use) and how we ought to give a lot more respect to people who choose to stay away from it. They might need to.

I’m Young But I’m Not

There’s always going to be someone older than you. It starts with your parents. Maybe an older sibling or two. But you’re never going to be the oldest person alive. (Barring your ability to live to be 120.) You might end up being the oldest person you know, but realistically, there will always be someone to tell you that you’re not really that old.

This might sound a bit rich coming from a guy that’s only 31. My age is still puts me well within the “young” category, at least in relative terms. I’m not “starting out university” young or “backpacking in Europe for six months” young, I’m the “still building up a career” kind of young. That really means that only teenagers and 20-somethings wouldn’t think of me as young. And yet I’ve had a 35-year-old tell me I’m still young. So which is it?

I feel more old than I feel young. I don’t have kids but I bemoan how kids act today. I don’t have the physical problems that come with advancing age, but I do have some of the financial concerns. I still like going to bars but only if I leave before midnight. I have unreasonably ambitious dreams that conflict with the ever-increasing reasonableness of a steady paycheque. I can have regrets about the life I didn’t live while I’m still living it.

I know I’m young enough that I could make a drastic life change if I wanted to, but I would have to think long and hard about if that was the responsible thing to do. The reality is that we’re always going to be younger than someone else, even when we’re older. There will be moments where we feel young and others where we feel old (I’m looking at you, Vitamin C supplement). And yet we still always seem to want to compare our lives to those of younger people.

It can be people just two years younger than you or ten years. But if you see someone doing something at age 25 that you hadn’t achieved by 30 it can start to feel like you missed some kind of opportunity, regardless of whether it was one that was never presented to you or one you were never interested in. It creates that feeling of “If only I had done that in my 20s, I would be doing this other thing in my 30s or 40s.”

I find myself more envious of people who achieve some quick level of success in their mid-20s than I am of someone in their 50s with a lengthy, sustained career of success. And that’s ridiculous. For almost everyone, success doesn’t happen overnight. That applies to success in work, relationships, hobbies or any other pursuit. It takes a lot of hard work and lot of trying and failing (insert generic DIY mantra here). So why do we idolize young people who have achieved some title or other token of accomplishment when we really don’t know much of how they came by it?

According to a lot of other people, I’m still young. If I achieve one of my life goals by the time I turn 35, there’s going to be some 45-year-old out there who will be envious of me. Same goes if I achieve something at 50. There will be a 60-year-old who only sees a failure in his own life. But he’s not that old. He’s still got time. Just like everyone else.

The Miracle Of Disappointment

We’re all going to die. But we don’t appreciate it. We don’t really know it. My Dad routinely tells me that you don’t fully appreciate the finiteness of life until your first parent dies. I would like to think I understand that, but I don’t since both my parents (and both step parents) are still alive. I think we’re all fully aware that we’re going to die, but we don’t appreciate it in the slightest. We will one day after we experience some traumatic, life-changing event. Only then will we truly understand the unique randomness of life, if not the miracle of it.

I say this as someone who hasn’t had that experience yet, but knows it’s coming. I know I don’t appreciate life enough, and I don’t think many people do. How else do we let our lives be consumed by a series of disappointments? Think about it: how many people do you know that are satisfied with their life? How many of us exist from one tiny grievance to another? We’re always looking for something to be disappointed by. If we didn’t, we would have no choice but to be happy.

We’re trained to seek some perfect life free of problems, grievances or annoyances. Somehow we’re led to believe that life should be easy and idyllic, even though that goes against everything we witness on a daily basis. It seems like we live with this expectation until someone close to us dies and we realize how fragile life is and how much time we have wasted being dissatisfied. Or at least I assume that’s how it goes. I haven’t experienced loss on that scale yet.

I choose to believe not everyone is so self-centered, so entitled to their own desires that they truly think the world is out to get them. We’re all caught up in trying to make our lives perfect instead of stopping to realize what we have is pretty great. And before I start turning into a self-help guru, I should say I don’t know how you go about doing this. I don’t know how to stop being disappointed when something I wanted to be amazing only turns out to be pretty good. I wish I did, because disappointment is a lousy way to get through your day.

Good things happen to most of us every day. Somehow we tend to only focus on the things that disappoint us. Just like I’m going to be disappointed by how few page views this gets. We’re privileged to only have to worry about such ridiculous things. Isn’t it great to be alive?

Gone And Also Forgotten

This past weekend, I went back to my university, Simon Fraser, to walk around the campus. I hadn’t been there since 2008 when I returned for my convocation ceremony. I’m in Vancouver for two weeks thanks to a work trip, so I used some of my free time to go up to SFU. I’m not sure if I did this in hopes of reigniting some kind of nostalgia or bringing back a wave of memories, but I wasn’t expecting the experience that I had: I didn’t feel anything.

tumblr_kzhewoBy5f1qz8pvvo1_1280

Sure, certain buildings and spots around campus reminded me of things my friends and I had done or classes I had taken, but I felt completely removed from those memories. It’s not so much that they didn’t feel like they never happened, it just felt like they were gone. They’re not part of my life anymore. SFU is no longer part of who I am. That’s a strange thing to think about a place that, without question, helped shape the person I have become. But what hit me as I walked around was that I no longer belong there. It’s not my place.

That’s a weird feeling to have about somewhere that played such an integral role for 4+ years of the most formative period of my life. When I was last at SFU in 2008, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia and an almost unbearable longing to go back and experience it all again. To be honest, I half expected to feel that way this time. I thought walking past old classrooms, residence and The Peak office where I spent so much time would make it all come rushing back. But that didn’t happen.

tumblr_kxw1u5xkxb1qz8pvvo1_1280

Seeing homemade posters of candidates running for student government made me smile at the thought of the futility of it all. The cloud of fog passing over campus made me wonder how we ever endured months of total dreariness. The new buildings and renovations of older ones made me realize every university student probably never gets to see the full benefits of all the tuition they paid. Everything there felt familiar, but no part of it felt like home.

And it was strange for me to realize that it’s not my home anymore. SFU belongs to other people now. As it has since I finished my classes in 2007. Universities have ever-changing ownership, at least in the way students and teachers help shape and define the post-secondary experience. As much as I want to feel like I still belong at SFU and believe that I still mean something to that school; I don’t.

tumblr_l1jhskOSOX1qz8pvvo1_1280

This is a hard thing to realize for anyone who had the standard university or college experience. And I think a lot of people probably can’t ever really accept it. We’re constantly told university is supposed to be the best years of our lives and all that. But I don’t think anyone should ever think in such definitive terms. I’m glad for what happened to me when I went back. I’m glad I didn’t feel like I belonged. I’m glad I didn’t ache to go back. The last thing I would want to do is live my life clinging desperately to four years as the only part of it worth remembering, cherishing or wanting to experience again.

There should be more to life than nostalgia.

Get out of my way, me

I will be 31-years-old this April. You would think that would mean I’ve got my life figured out. Steady job, wife, house, kids on the way, etc. While I do have a steady job and I do have a girlfriend, I don’t feel anywhere close to feeling like I’ve got my life figured out. I used to think that was a problem. And that’s pretty much only because I kept telling myself that it was a problem.

It’s taken me this long in my life to realize the biggest obstacle any person has to overcome in their life is themselves. (Obviously I’m referring to us privileged ones over here in the developed Western World.) Lest you think this is turning into a new age blog about spirituality and finding yourself and all that, I’m simply writing about it because I’ve yet to meet a single person (out of those I know well) who has mastered the art of keeping themselves out of their own business. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you probably haven’t yet realized how you get in your own way.

Only you prevent yourself from being better at your job, admitting your job isn’t right for you, recognizing and embracing the best parts of your relationships, and from changing the way you do these things. In fact, you’re likely the cause of most of your own hang-ups and problems.

Sure, there’s alpha male types out there who “know what they want” and strive for success and money and everything we’re told will make us happy. They probably scoff at someone like me and I think I’m just a pussy who needs to get it together. But they’ll never understand where I’m coming from. They’re not self-aware enough to think that maybe they don’t have all the answers. They don’t stop to think about what they’re doing and why. They aren’t searching for the same kind of fulfillment.

The problem with being too self-aware, is that you start to over think aspect of your life until you can longer take any amount of joy out of it. Your job, your relationship, your friends, your family. Everything needs to be thought through and back again until it all feels wrong to you. By thinking too much, we stop ourselves from enjoying the living we’re supposed to be doing.

And here’s the part where I tell you the magical answer that will solve all your problems: there isn’t one. The only solution is to recognize when you’re getting in your own way. That’s really the only reason I’m writing this. It’s catharsis for me because I realized I’ve been actively trying to stop myself from changing in ways that’ll make me better. It feels good to write it down. But I’m still trying to stop myself from clicking “Publish.”