By what authority could anyone, outside of other terminally ill persons, tell Brittany Maynard that her decision was the wrong? This question has cut deep these past few days and I believe the answer lies in asking myself why I belong to community, whether it be my monastic community, the community I have with my students, my family, the Church, and everything in between.
Whenever I’ve belonged to a community, the need for belonging itself drew me there. The first real motive for community life was the basic need to have my very being, my existence affirmed and valued. Even my brokenness needed to find a home, acceptance in something outside of myself, before I could see myself as an integrated whole.
Belonging to community, beyond simply existing among others, gives freedom. Belonging allows me to exist freely as myself. Everyone needs this to some degree, to have their value shown to them so that they can embrace it.
An amazing thing happens when we belong and discover our worth. We begin to see the same worth in others. A real community grows the heart so that it encompasses more and more of those within its vicinity, even the unsavory, poor, and annoying. It’s a mystery how this happens: I can only say that I see my belonging, and I see my heart growing, apparently without my effort, and sometimes even without my consent! And I see it happening in others, too.
Truly incredible is when the heart grows to encompass someone it has never met. I suffered with the news of Brittany Maynard’s death. I know that many people did; I’m far from unique. I suffered because, for whatever reason, she could not see her own worth, or respond to it if she did see it. “The world was better with you, Brittany, and we were better with you in it.” In a way, a way I again don’t understand but only witness, we belong to Brittany and Brittany belongs to us. Evidence of this is in our pain and desire for her happiness.
This is where our authority comes from, not from developing a superior ethical position or political power. We have only the gift that our hearts have been allowed to grow in community and make room for Brittany. We can’t pretend that we haven’t been given love; neither that love is for us alone. Who are we to talk? People who have been loved without measure.
But the gift of desiring, and even suffering for, another’s happiness isn’t all we have. We can also rest the hope that she now knows what we know, by the power of the same One who showed us what we know. Indeed, we must rest in this hope.