The Good Son


If God had come to me and said,
if you are willing to forget your self

you will find the cure for heart attacks and compose
the greatest symphonies,

I wouldn’t have been sure of my answer.
Because there wouldn’t have been enough

attention to my suffering. And that’s unforgivable.
But I keep on forgiving myself

with God’s love. And it’s strange I should say this
because my mother died of a heart attack

after months in a hospital room full of a silence
that lodged itself like a stone in her throat.

And she thought I was wonderful

and would do anything for her.

–“The Good Son,” by Jason Shinder (2009).

What would you do? Would you give up your self to save a relative, a neighbor or friend? Or what about a stranger? Would you give up your self to solve some of the world’s major problems? Or is that too heavy a price to pay, because there “wouldn’t have been enough attention paid to your own suffering.”

I’d like to answer yes, but when push came to shove, (that’s always struck me as a rather brutal turn of phrase, so it fits here) I honestly don’t know what I’d do. It reminds me of that question all undergraduates ponder in Ethics 101: who would be the one to step off the life-raft if you only had enough food for two of the three?

I started wondering this at quite an early age because my grandparents had a cabin at Donner Lake, made famous by the California-bound families who, lost in the snow, resorted to eating one another, rather than face death in the cold. We’d like to say “Oh GOD no, I’d never eat another person. I’d never throw another off the life raft — I’d feed myself to sharks first. I’d willingly give my life to cure cancer.” But who knows what’s really deep down there?

And my final thought on the matter: Would you honestly be able to live with yourself if you didn’t give yourself up?

Sorry to bring up cannibalism on a sunny Superbowl February morning, folks. Have a nice day and enjoy your Soylent Gr–I mean Doritos.

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