What do we require, when it comes right down to it? We are immersed in a sea of individual needs, family needs, community needs, global needs. Piles of precariously balanced needs. Needs tumbling to the ground, with accompanying cries of dismay and fear. They are very real, these needs- the need to eat, the need to breathe, the need to be free of constant fear, the need for one’s body to not fall apart… surely you could also think of a very long list of needs, your own and everyone else’s.
In Dr. Seuss’s book The Lorax, there are objects known as “thneeds.” Thneeds are made from truffula trees, which are the real, essential resource for the surrounding species. The greedy Onceler and his family are busy destroying the trees in order to enrich themselves by creating and promoting something genuinely useless: thneeds (a sort of knitted thingamabob with no clear purpose). The Lorax, tiny and strident, calls the Onceler to task, insisting “I speak for the trees!” He is horrified by the destruction and begging the powers that be to stop their madness. It’s all for naught. The last truffula tree is chopped down anyway. The various species are gone. The Lorax disappears through the clouds into the void. All that’s left in the end is a wasted landscape, a single inquiring mind, and a seed.
What if the real needs, the ones we consider fundamental to staying alive, are actually thneeds? Could it be possible that the only true need we have is love?
We can pull out all the stops we can to prevent or minimize suffering, sickness, and death. Whatever can be done, should be done, right? Surely we are obligated to do that? Surely this is the way to a life of integrity?
My father-in-law lies dying in a hospital bed. He is surrounded by his wife and four children. He is suffering. They are suffering. There is no clear route to what is the kind thing to do. He is sedated, on a ventilator. The white-knuckle grip on denial is starting to loosen for them all. I am trying not to impose my own views on the others. But I tell you now, this is what I wish I could say:
There is no realistic hope for his recovery. Put it down. Let it go. Let it tear you apart, if necessary. What is needed is love. What is needed is connection and release. What is needed is the chance to say goodbye, to say over and over, I love you, I love you, I carry your heart in my heart, thank you, I am with you always. Take him off the ventilator. Let him come out of sedation. I know this means he may die a bit sooner. But let him see you, hear you, feel you. Let the end of his life be filled with love.
None of us will get everything we need, in the end. Our bodies will inevitably fail us. Our best-laid plans for sustenance will fail, even if they are a temporary balm. We cannot count on having food, water, oxygen, or safety, much as we strive to arrange for these. I’m not advocating that we abandon such efforts. What I’m doing is seeking redemption, and the only route I see to it is love.
What is love? How crazy is it of me to ask this perennial question? How can I describe my felt experience of it? No language can do it justice. Is it commitment? Does love last, or does it end? Does it transcend time, space, death? Is it fruitless to attempt to capture it in words?
My still-beating heart, circumventing my intellect, speaks insistently, throwing me down, getting in my face with its urgency. Yes, love is impossible to capture. Yes, love transcends time, space, and death, and nobody will be able to prove it. Love is boundless, unconditional, expansive. Love is what feeds our deepest essential need. Even in our loneliness and brokenness, it is the only redemption. Follow it where it leads, even to, especially to, the frightening places. Follow it to the end of consciousness and beyond.