Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bargains, Faustian and Otherwise

My friend has to choose between chemo that will leave her with tingling in her hands and the loss of hair or chemo that will leave her with mouth sores.

I'm reminded of those ghoulish games we played as kids.  We'd ask each other impossible questions.  If you had to be deaf or blind, which would you choose?  If you had to have your mom or your dad die, which would you choose?

It also reminds me of the first stories I heard of rebels in the Sudan, back in the late 90's, who would let their victims choose long sleeves or short and chop arms off accordingly.  I never cease to be horrified at all the ways we can be inhumane to each other.

I am also horrified at the ways disease can ravage us--and by the ways that the cures for those diseases can leave us with a whole different set of problems.

I think of characters throughout literary history who have been presented with certain choices:  eternal life or knowledge of good and evil?  Ultimate power for one's mortal soul?  An aging portrait which insures a gorgeous exterior but a rotting interior?  Ah, the Faustian bargain.

What would you give to save what you love?  I don't often frame plot conflicts in those terms, but it occurs to me that I can boil down much literature to that very question.

If I could make a bargain whereby I never wrote another poem good or bad again but in return my loved ones would live to a healthy old age?  I would give up my own poems.

My inner critic sneers at me--as if my poems are worth all those human lives!  But crafting a poem brings me the kind of joy that few other activities do.  It makes me see the world differently, if only for a moment.  It makes me happy about my brain.  It gives me a way to access my past, so that I'm not dwelling or moping, but creating something new.

But I would give it all up to save a friend.

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