My step-brother Alex had a shaking hand he couldn’t hold still, and he couldn’t walk in a straight line, so he was referred for an MRI scan which he had last Friday. About ninety minutes ago, on today the following Tuesday, hospital staff started prepping him for a six hour piece of surgery to remove the brain tumour. If he wasn’t to have it, he’d be dead before the end of 2014. I want to write about what specifically I find sad about this situation.

I have a huge emotional buffer by being all the way over here in Korea. All my news on the situation comes by text message; I’m not party to the discussions held at each stage of the process. That means that I’ve been feeling a bit down but there’s no anxiety or anything like that. It was the same six months ago when my dad discovered he had prostrate cancer, though that was discovered so early that there were no symptoms, and it didn’t involve any brain surgery so I barely felt anything at all. I just assumed that it would all come out fine and it was just some severe inconvenience to deal with for a few months for the people back home, that I was grateful not to have anything to do with.

My selfishness is made clear by the way I’ve responded to both of these events. Today I spent my working day anxious about the fact that I hadn’t had a bowel movement before going to work, I knew there was plenty of stuff inside me, and I was teaching for five uninterruptible hours. Things like this dominate my emotional life and other people’s life-threatening diseases barely figure. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about this though. Selfish actions matter, and I try hard not to hold myself responsible for how I merely feel. I think that this is one thing that I’ve been able to do by living away from my family, who sometimes try to guilt-trip me about my not seeming to care about things like this.

Now onto the title of this post. I haven’t been feeling anxious, nor have I been feeling bad for Alex’s potential to lose his life or to be seriously disabled. I’ve been feeling bad about the medical and emotional process that Alex, my sister, my mother and my step-father are having to go through.

First the medical process. Thousands of pounds and the manhours of rather a few medical professionals are being poured into saving Alex’s life. Not very many people in the world have access to that, and in a world as screwed up as ours, those resources could do a lot of other powerful things. I don’t know anyone personally who has work to do so important that it’s completely obvious that we should pour the resources in to save his or her life; I’m thinking the likes of Nelson Mandela.

The problem is that there’s no question that Alex or my mother or step-father should for a moment refuse or suggest refusing the treatment. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that they should. Being in the situation where one must accept such vast resources being poured into oneself or one’s loved one is very sad because one is brought face-to-face with our powerlessness in the face of the world’s inequalities, inequalities fuelled by greed. All we seem to be able to do as individuals is maintain those inequalities, or opt-out of society completely.

Secondly the emotional process. My sister, mother and my step-father are intelligent, well-educated men and women of the world. Yet right now they are in the grip of their utterly overbearing emotional attachments to Alex continuing to live in the way that he did a week ago. They can recognise perhaps that whether Alex dies this week or in about seventy years time is really very insignificant to humanity as a whole (nevermind the universe), and they can know from their own experience that they will recover from whatever happens and life will go on. But thanks to the strong emotions they must face right now, they cannot live with mental lives cognisant of these truths. They can barely think about not doing all they can and not mustering all the resources available to them to this one small cause. My mother texted me as the scheduled time for the operation came around to say that ’[love] is the most powerful force in the world and I’ll believe in anything if it gets our boy through today.’ I’ve never felt like this so I don’t know what’s really going on inside her, but to me this just seems like clinging to a bunch of Christian ideas that she got from her childhood. She’s normally capable of recognising these just so much fluffy cotton wool we wrap around ourselves to insulate ourselves from the truth, even though we know that doing so ultimately does us harm. I feel so sad and sympathetic that for the moment she cannot stop such ideas from ruling her.

I don’t blame them all for any of this for a moment. It’s utterly forgiveable and understandable and I would be in the very same state if this was happening to someone I had a similar strength of attachment to, for example if it was happening to my mother or sister. In such a case I don’t think I’d be able to write this post as I have. I am very keen not to come across as preaching from a position of emotional or moral superiority, though I know that my writing style makes that hard to avoid. I just wanted to write down what I think is deeply sad about this situation, even though that’s different to what one might expect me to be preoccupied with. I find it much easier to accept and be at peace with the truth that he might well die, than I find it possible to accept and be at peace with the inequality of the world that the situation puts in stark relief, and the emotional inadequacy of all of us.