Each life and death remain unique

“Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none — none more wondrous than the human body.”


Medical scientists are continually discovering new information about the complexity and integrity of body functions creating a sense of wonder at the human body’s capacity to sustain life. As you perform various activities, not only are you breathing, your blood is circulating and the digestive system is functioning.

Of the 75 trillion cells in your body, there are about 4 million that are dividing every single second. Every cell has hundreds of thousands of protein molecules in it and they are constantly interacting with one another. Lewis Thomas was so impressed while observing cell function that he wrote an intriguing book, “The Lives of a Cell,” that weaves his philosophy of life with the operations of a cell.

Paul Brand, a world-renowned hand surgeon and leprosy specialist, and Philip Yancey, editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine, collaborated to write “Fearfully & Wonderfully Made and In His Image.”

In these books, they not only extol the wonders of the body, but emphasize the body’s role in being the temple for the soul. Brand writes on how healing cells are attracted to a wound and how the communication is a sign of God’s presence.

Author Dianne M. Connelly writes in her book “All Sickness is Home Sickness” of the importance of the body in transporting our soul along its journey on earth.

All of us have some measure of respect for our bodies and the capabilities it provides for us. Yet, individuals often abuse their bodies with inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, overeating, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol, use of illegal drugs, etc. It has even been declared that our society now has a heroin epidemic. Somehow we need to enhance a deeper appreciation and purpose for life, everyone’s life. On March 3, Dr. Sherwin Nuland died at age 83 of prostate cancer. He practiced medicine for 30 years and taught medical ethics at Yale University. The publisher, Random House, had asked him to write a book about how we die. In 1994, his first book, “How We Die,” was published and won a National Book Award for nonfiction. The week after his death, WYSU aired an interview that Krista Tippett had recorded in 2009 for the program “On Being” that is broadcast at 7 a.m. Sundays. Nuland states that every death is unique just as our faces or fingerprints are unique. In his book he does describe the pathways to death in each of the most common diseases in very detailed medical terminalogy. However, in between the case studies, he philosophies about life and shares his own personal history.

In the interview, he stated, “Notwithstanding the tragedies that humankind has visited on itself individually and collectively, and the havoc we have wrecked on our planet, we have become endowed nevertheless with a transcendent quality that expands generation upon generation, overcoming even our tendency to selfdestruction. That quality, which I call spirit, has permeated our civilization and created the moral and aesthetic nutriment by which we are sustained.”

By age 10, eight members of Nuland’s immediate family had died, including his parents. He and his brother moved in with his grandmother whom he dearly loved. He was 18 when she died. Over the years he became acutely aware of the signs of her aging. When she had a stroke, it was Nuland who ran down the tenement steps and two blocks down the street to telephone for a doctor from the drugstore. He put the cot he slept on beside her bed during the last four months of her life. His maiden aunt Rose and an orphaned cousin were in another bed in the same room. Rose was the breadwinner of the family. She worked at a sweatshop in the garment industry.

When asked why he speaks so intimately about his personal experiences, he said, “If I learned anything at all from my writing, it’s that the more personal I am the more universally I’m heard.”

Dr. Agnes Martinko is a member of St. Edward Church in Youngstown.

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