Saturday, April 2, 2011

In the Valley of the Shadow

I’m reading theologian James Kugel’s new book, “In the Valley of the Shadow” in which he examines the state of mind and sense of human smallness that comes when one is diagnosed with a serious illness. Fascinating that Kugel’s response to his own terminal diagnosis is his choice to follow and document his own thoughts and changed sensibility. A scholar, thinker and theologian even unto death.

There are many wonderful things in this book. Part of what stands out is how Kugel’s awareness of himself and others shifts as his illness proceeds. Here is an example:

“Most people, when they see someone ravaged by chemotherapy, just tend to keep their distance, and I suppose that my colleagues, experts in ancient and medieval religion, were no exception. Fear also plays a role. “That could happen to me” is rarely spoken but often thought. If people do talk to you about your condition, they usually get around to asking you what your first symptoms were---this could be useful information, after all! Some are also eager to discover something in your family history or some aberrant feature of your diet or daily regimen that can be blamed for your catastrophe while leaving them in the clear…All this, I’m afraid is merely human.”

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