Sunday, August 31, 2008

Health Care: Are We Our Brother's Keeper?

One redeeming aspect of Christianity may lie in its teaching that we are, indeed, our brother's keeper. I would only submit that there is nothing uniquely Christian about aspiring to this ideal. A certain secular version of this maxim is unquestionably embedded into the fabric of our humanity. Some have even suggested that our DNA, along with our Darwinian legacy, offer explanations for the very origins of altruism altogether. Suffice it to say, as social beings we are all called to one another for the purpose of attaining - and sustaining - our good health and well-being.

Despite this principle, the politically popular idea of "taking personal responsibility" seems to be clouding our understanding, as well as affecting our interpretation, of the well-intentioned "brother's keeper" doctrine. There is, of course, the belief among many that a particular economic model provides greater opportunities for people to accept their responsibilities meaning more of our brothers can tend to themselves. But these models don't provide opportunities for everyone and leave unattended the needs of many. Invariably, a number of people are left on the outside looking in despite the impressive wealth-producing effects some of these economic models have on society.

An important question raised by these problems relates to the proper role of government in providing their solutions. Certain conservative schools believe the role of government to be that of cultivating a business environment which would incentivize an even more comprehensive brand of capitalism thereby providing self-lifting opportunities for an even greater number of people. Former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is on record as suggesting a newer "creative capitalism" which would identify emerging micromarkets in many of the world's impoverished regions in the hopes of raising the standard of living for millions while at the same time earning profits for shareholders.

Does this theory suggest that some form of capitalism is the best hope for those left behind? Teaching people how to fish rather than just handing them fish makes perfect sense - at least insofar as it applies to those who have the capacity to learn. For the sick and disabled, a slice of this proverbial pie is not within reach. Who tends to them?

Here again, purists say government is not the solution, suggesting even health care is more properly managed by profit-seeking entities. Only the facts appear to say otherwise. A sustainable, profit-driven model has yet to emerge as a viable option for providing comprehensive health care to an entire society, and this is likely due to the fact that including everyone would eviscerate the bottom line of any profit-driven scheme.

Which brings us back to the question of how to best serve as our brother's keeper. Given that the needs of so many are immediate, the imperative would seem to lie in committing the resources - yes, public resources - necessary to provide a safety net for those who are neglected by our present health care infrastructure.

When circumstances demand it, the assets of government can be essential tools for dealing with the problems private innovation has yet to solve.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Turning Left - No Matter Who Wins

No matter who wins the upcoming presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, the direction the country will be headed in - for at least one healthy swing of the political pendulum - is decidedly left.

How can this be, you ask. First off, conservatives have already had their right wings clipped this election season with the nomination of McCain. He's even out of step on a regular basis with many mainstream Republicans as in his opposing the party plank that wants a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (McCain says that issue should be left up to the states), or as in his collaborating with Democrats on campaign finance reform and immigration. So even if McCain is elected, he will govern from a position decidedly left of George W. Bush. In fact, the marginalizing of conservatives is already more than what most of us liberals could have hoped for from this year's election process.

In a Time magazine article this week, Falling Upward, Peter Beinart actually suggests Republicans might be better off in the long term if they took this one on the chin. His reasoning being that an Obama victory might see Democrats overreaching once in power, thus igniting a strong reactionary impulse from Republicans in the following cycle a la Newt Gingrich in 1994. Whereas if McCain wins, Republicans might have to choose between watered down legislation - with Democratic majorities in Congress - and a string of vetoes in a war of ideologies.

The addition of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket appears to be intended not only to seize upon disaffected Hillary supporters, but also to fill the conservative void created by McCain's nomination. The early returns in the blogosphere, however, seem to indicate a lack of consensus opinion regarding the selection of Palin with tags like 'genius' and 'irresponsible' both being tossed about. Palin's conservative credentials would no doubt have a mitigating effect on the overall slide to the left should she and McCain prevail this fall.

Of course we liberals aren't looking forward to a possible Reagan-style backlash if Team Obama gets elected and the Democrats do overreach. Keeping aspirations modest while in power would be the best way to delay - or moderate - the next inevitable pendulum swing back to the right.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pondering An Intellectual Obscenity

Questioning the very quality of the love I have for my family and friends simply because it does not emanate from your God --

If you've never pondered what an intellectual obscenity might look like, this is a perfect example of one.

Cry of the Conservative: Believe in Something

Conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has many ardent criticisms of people disposed to a liberal way of thinking. One of his more persistent is: "Liberals believe in nothing. They have no faith in anything." Does he have a point, or is this merely code for they don't believe in God?

If Mr. Limbaugh means to suggest that liberals and free thinkers simply are not willing to forgo the process of rational examination for investigating that which has yet to be explained, then he is correct. The "dittoheads" of the world are plainly of the mind that God is the answer for all that is as yet unexplained. They have leapt right over the river of reason and onto the bank of banality.

One would think the track record science has for explaining the innumerable puzzles once deemed inexplicable would be reason enough to forgo invoking God as an explanation for anything. As civilization advances, the great misconceptions about the world are brazenly laid bare by the wondrous tools of science.

Rush Limbaugh has it all wrong. We skeptical liberals believe in plenty. It's just that the things we believe in survive the strenuous tests of rational examination and intelligent reasoning.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On the Political Centering of Religion

A new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals a clear trend toward an electorate becoming less tolerant of the mixing of politics and religion. This is very interesting data in light of the Democratic Party's recent efforts to chip away at the stranglehold of support Republicans have enjoyed from the religiously inclined for some time.

From the Democratic Candidates Compassion Forum on CNN in April of this year to Barack Obama's venturing into the lion's den of Rick Warren's Saddleback Church earlier this month, it appears as though the political support of religious people is a commodity ever-increasing in value despite what the numbers say.

These opposing observations seem to point to an escalating of the culture wars being waged on the political battle grounds, with Republicans trending toward a less rigid brand of religiosity, while Democrats are simply trending toward more religiosity in general. While these trends no doubt owe their emergence to the political realities of eroding popularity among traditional voting constituencies, they also point to the somewhat homogenizing effect these very trends are having on society at large. Forces now commonly referred to as the religious left and moderate evangelicals have emerged to employ more politically expedient tactics for the upcoming presidential election.

A close look at the agendas of these new coalitions reveals much commonality of aspiration among them. The newer more centrist right now shares with the progressive religious groups of the new left focus on a broad range of issues including hunger, poverty, the environment, AIDS, health care, corporate responsibility, and human rights - issues more traditionally associated with the secular progressive movement.

Oddly, both secular atheists and the religious faithful are likely to claim benefit from these trends. Even though the conservative right wing of the Republican Party is becoming increasingly marginalized as a political force at present, they can nonetheless claim an overall advancement of their agenda by noting the increased courting of the religious by liberal Democrats. Conversely, ever hopeful skeptics would point out that eliminating the extremism of ultra conservatives is simply a must-take, first step on the long road to a more secular society.

Ultimately, the privileged status religion enjoys in this country is not likely to change any time soon, but the redefining of priorities reveals a sense of self-doubt on both sides. Election '08 may yet prove to be a watershed moment for the relationship between religion and politics in America.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Fides et Ratio": Making Sense of the Senseless

Few concepts seem more incompatible than those of faith and reason. Their relationship to each other is a fascinating one to contemplate. One of the most famous documents to attempt their reconciliation in recent times is the late Pope John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, an instructional letter from the pontiff to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the relationship between faith and reason.

This treatise is not for the faint of heart, among whom I readily consider myself one. (Nor does it lend itself to fair examination with just a few hundred words.) It is written by, and intended for, those who have no doubt achieved an advanced understanding of many philosophical principles and schools of thought. Nevertheless, its flaws in reasoning are plainly revealed in the very things it unapologetically claims to be integral to its understanding: reliance upon perfect faith and divine revelation as instruments of paradoxical resolution.

Early on, a conspicuous prejudice is revealed, one which states by mere fiat that the church is in possession of the ultimate truth about human life via nothing more than what it proclaims to be a mystery: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Attaining truth via mystery is decidedly unreasonable to us faint of heart.

The intended path of reasoning in Fides et Ratio seems to be the following: The act of believing - that is, faith itself - reveals truth; and this revelation of truth imparts reason upon the act of faith by grounding the object of faith in reality. Convoluted though this may appear, this circle of logic is nonetheless intended to provide the human intellect with the access it seeks to this very reasoning. In fact, invoking the benefits of faith as regards its power to reveal is a constant theme throughout Faith and Reason. It is apparently too much to ask that truth be revealed or evident prior to demanding one's belief in it. To strain logic further, the pope criticizes modern philosophy for not being able to arrive at that which he clearly states only faith and revelation can aspire to in the first place - truth. Not to be caught off guard, the pontiff warns of the dangers of fideism (fee-day-iz-um), the reliance upon faith alone without reasoning and philosophical discourse, which he asserts are necessary for the understanding of faith.

A precept of this dissertation that reveals more circular reasoning is the notion that complete freedom is a prerequisite to the perfect act of faith, and yet it is faith which will set one free. And around it goes. Further, without adequate explanation, it is demanded of reason that the transcendent sovereignty of God simply be recognized. What it fails to acknowledge is that an act of faith - not reason - is required to achieve this recognition.

To its credit, Faith and Reason often contemplates the virtue attained in the mere pursuit of meaning through philosophical contemplation, and rather magnanimously acknowledges even the contributions of "erroneous" philosophies in provoking a more discriminating discussion of purported theological truths. It nonetheless discredits any philosophy which does not find itself eventually in total lockstep agreement with every aspect of its own.

Fides et Ratio only succeeds if one is willing to abandon all commonly recognized definitions of reason itself, and completely buy into the strained and self-serving definitions it proposes. Yet this does not necessitate its total rejection so long as it is seen for what it is: a dogmatic manifesto of Christian philosophy which is beyond its own claims to accessibility via the human intellect. If the purpose of this document is to rationalize Catholic dogma by exhibiting a comprehensible philosophical symbiosis between faith and reason, it fails completely. If a symbiosis between the two exists at all, it is one of convenience only and not rational thought.

In the end, the unintelligibility of Faith and Reason is surpassed only by its verbosity. And in keeping with its utter reliance upon paradox, it is flawed to perfection, providing nonsensical, gift-wrapped answers for every question it poses. This, alone, is reason enough to dismiss this package of papal profundity in its entirety.

The German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546) offered a bit of timeless analysis when he declared, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I Wish My Brain Had A Delete Button

Today was an especially beautiful day. Bright sun, a few lazy clouds, not too warm. A perfect day for what else - golf. So my brother, Henry, his girlfriend, Jen, and I decided to inflict a little humiliation on ourselves and play a round of that game we so love to hate - and hate to love.

After Jen remarked on just how gorgeous the weather was, I replied, "Yes. Isn't it heavenly?" Being aware of my aversion to God and religion, Jen said to me, "Heavenly? I thought you were an atheist." She was no doubt just ribbing me, and in all honesty, I did appreciate the humor. Nevertheless, I did feel the need to offer some explanation for invoking what is sometimes considered to be a religious term, and disabuse her of the notion that I might be, deep down inside, a religious person - just in case she wasn't kidding. (When you think about it, saying, "Isn't it a heavenly day," is no more an expression of religiosity than uttering "God damnit!" as a profanity is.)

"Well, you got me there, Jen. It just goes to show how deeply ingrained all of this religious stuff is. It's too bad my brain doesn't have a delete button." We shared a laugh and promptly returned to the business of bad golf.

Then I got to thinking. Wouldn't it be great if our brains really did have a delete button - like computers. Better yet, one of those high-security, data-sanitizing programs that actually obliterates all traces of selective information. If there were a brain-based equivalent to one of these programs, I could permanently remove all those seared-into-my-memory incantations of, "Our Father, who art in heaven ...," "Hail Mary, full of grace ...," or "Oh My God, I am heartily sorry ..." Heck, why stop there? I could remove the memory of every painful experience I ever had.

Reality, however, tells us that we are today where the sum of all yesterdays has taken us, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and unless I contract an incredibly selective case of amnesia, I am stuck with the troubling images and memories of my religious upbringing.

I don't consider certain aspects of my younger life an obscenity merely because religion was such a big part of it. Rather it was the way in which it was all presented to me that was so offensive. I was made to feel loathsomely inferior if I dared to challenge any aspect of the dogma being served up. Worse, I was made to feel immoral over the most insignificant - and normal - of childhood mistakes. This was mind molding in the extreme, the kind that frustrated every attempt of the inner self to instinctively surface. Individuality was anathema to the kind of guardianship I was subjected to.

Yes, a virtual delete button would have come in handy at times, but knowing such a device wasn't likely to be forthcoming has lead me to rely instead upon colouring the worst of my memories with some honest introspection and a little self love. Slowly but surely, it's making a difference.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

There's A Reason It's Called Faith

My atheist predilections do not preclude me from having respect for people of religious faith so long as they acknowledge a few simple things:

First, that the central claims of religion require a leap of faith precisely because they defy the demands of logical truths. -- Many of my religious friends readily concede this point. It causes them no consternation to admit that what they believe in defies reason and cannot be proved by any logical process, and yet they are still called to faith. This I can respect.

Second, that their faith is not the only authentic source of guiding principles for morality and ethics. -- Acceding on this point is a very difficult thing for many religious people to do; but, again, there are those among them who are quick to disavow religion's exclusive claims as to the origins of these guiding principles. Another point to respect.

And third, that their faith does not require them to disqualify skeptics and non-believers from a life endowed with the full complement of redeeming human values. -- This is problematic for the vast majority of the religious. How often I have heard it said that life without God is a sad existence or is a life without purpose. This is condescending to say the least. There are, admittedly, some moderate believers who are quick to distance themselves from this kind of arrogant thinking thus disabusing us skeptics of the notion that all religious people think alike.

The act of believing in something that cannot sustain challenges to its logic and reasoning is by no means an ignoble deed. Trouble arises when wholly unsupported claims of truth emerge in specious attempts to authenticate one's belief. Indeed, the brand of faith most deserving of respect is the one which acknowledges no foundation in universally verifiable truths and exists knowing that its core tenets are beyond the scope of rational query. This faith demands the most of its believers. Conversely, the brand of faith least deserving of respect is the one which claims - with abundant certitude - to be borne of nothing more than self-evident truthfulness or divine revelation.

A mature and responsible faith is one that is amenable to criticism, understanding that criticism is not the same as disrespect; is quick to disassociate itself from the many lurid aspects of organized religion's less than exemplary past; and is not possessed of an arrogant infallibility regarding scripture, the nature of humanity, and the nature of the universe.

All this is not to say that we atheists don't have our unreasonable factions among us as well. Some of us are all too quick to display the very same kind of unappealing dogmatism we criticize in our faithful friends.

Belief in something despite its implausibility - that's faith. And its very implausibility is the reason it is called faith.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Dog Is My Coffee Buddy

My wife Jami and I had a fairly brief courtship before marrying, so we weren't able to find out everything couples usually do before tying the noose. For eighteen years now, we've had fun finding out these little things about each other. One day, early on, I found out something very important - the hard way.

On my way home from work, I thought I'd surprise Jay by bringing her a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts. I even got a blueberry muffin to go along with it knowing what a delicious combination that can be. I raced home, eager to please my mate with this loving gesture, walked in the door, and joyfully announced, "Honey. I brought you a little surprise."

"What's this?" she asked.

"I got you a coffee and a muffin."

What followed left me in near-total dismay: "Oh, thanks for the muffin, Sweety. But I don't drink coffee."

I froze for a moment as she plucked her gift bag from my fingers and pranced away muffin in hand. For several minutes I ambled aimlessly in circles fending off shock. What have I done? Have I chosen as a partner-for-life someone who doesn't partake of one of its greatest joys? I was looking forward to many years of blissful coffee-drinking moments with her. Now what? What else is there?

Needing to compose myself, I left her coffee on the kitchen table and went into the office to gather my thoughts. After the shock came the disillusionment: She's left-handed, has brown eyes, and doesn't drink coffee. Surely, any divorce court in the land could see just how cruel this is. Maybe it wasn't too late for an annulment. She's even poisoned my daughter against me with this coffee thing. Alycia wants nothing to do with it. Hates the taste of it. Another coffee soul mate - lost for all time.

Then I thought better of things. Looking on the bright side: Jay loves watching golf with me on television every Sunday. How many husbands can say that? She enjoys watching baseball, too. Another good thing. I guess it's not so bad, after all. A year or so of marriage counseling should clear things right up.

Feeling a little better, I went back into the kitchen to get the coffee I left for Jay and put it in the microwave to heat up. (This was a two-coffee moment for me.) As I approached the kitchen, I heard the distinct sound of a slurping dog. Hmm. The dog's water dish was not in the kitchen. Wonder what it could be. What I saw next was unnerving. I entered the kitchen to the sight of a canine caffeine addict in the making. Our precocious young dog, Riley, had propped himself onto a chair and was voraciously drinking the coffee I left on the table!

To this day, whenever I leave my coffee unattended, I can be sure Riley will be right there to avail himself of the fruits of my absentmindedness.

I've given up yelling at Riley for just following his instincts, strange though they are. In fact, I may have inadvertently happened upon that precious, missing commodity in my social life: someone to drink coffee with.

Now whenever I'm in the mood for both coffee and a little company, I know better than to turn to my own wife and daughter and simply look to my dog and say, "C'mon Riley. It looks like it's you and me today. One extra cream, no sugar. Right?"

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Wordless Wonder of Music and Emotions

How is it I can tune in to the opera channel on my Music Choice selector, not understand a word that is been sung, and yet experience such a definitive array of emotions as I listen? Admittedly, my knowledge of opera is very limited - I may only 'know' three or four with any intimacy - but even that doesn't prevent me from enjoying immeasurably the sublime conspiracy of voice and music in offerings I know nothing about.

In the final act of Turandot (by Giacomo Puccini) - as Turnadot commands that no one sleep until the name of her suitor prince is revealed thus allowing her to escape the fate of marriage by condemning the Prince to death - the Prince, anticipating that his name will not be revealed by anyone, sings the excruciatingly beautiful aria Nessun Dorma ("None shall sleep"). Even without the benefit of translation, the unmistakable emotions of intense longing, selfless love and joyful anticipation can be experienced by those with absolutely no inclination toward opera.

So distinct and powerful are the emotions conveyed in 'Nessun Dorma', as well as those conveyed in the simplest of human communiques such as a soft kiss or a gentle touch, I am compelled to question the very capacity of words to suffice as a means of communication. Does it mean more to say, "I love you," or is the feeling of love, evoked by any number of means, simply more meaningful to experience? As an amateur writer, I often feel helpless when attempting to capture complex emotions or ideas, as though words are totally inadequate to the task. And yet, I am driven by the challenge to find those very words which, when deftly applied, can accomplish the near-impossible.

On those occasions when words are, indeed, destined to fail, fortunately there is not necessarily a corresponding void of communication altogether. Some of the most meaningful things people ever say to one another are "said" via the intricate language of a loving silence or mesmerizing gaze. And surely most of us have experienced the transcendent joy that often comes from just listening to an intimately pleasing musical composition.

So I'll continue my search for those elusive words as long I aspire to convey meaning through the nominal conventions of written and spoken language. But hopefully, I'll be tuned in when those special moments demand that I let go of the keyboard, put down the pen, shut my mouth and communicate in that most nearly perfect way - without words.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Faith-Based Initiatives: Solution or Threat?

It's easy to be cynical regarding the motives of those who are promoting the church/state alliance known as faith-based initiatives. On the surface, it is a political coup for the conservative cause where religious organizations, being denied front-door access to the machinery of government, have seemingly found a way in through the side door.

Many suggest this is too dangerous a glide on the slippery slope toward an eventual theocracy, thus rendering it unworkable. Is it? Or is it a modest and noble endeavor of government to provide assistance to organizations that have experience in tending to many of the symptoms of society's ills?

So enticing is the allure of capturing the votes of religious conservatives and evangelicals, soon-to-be official Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama is even proposing the expanding of faith-based initiatives. This capitulation points up the reality of religion's staying power and influence in the political arena. Indeed, no major party candidate has failed to pass the virtual religious litmus test imposed upon him or her by the election process. Exposing this litmus test for what it is, however, is at least a step in the right direction.

In theory, these faith-based programs can make a difference. But at what cost? Is it realistic to expect a religious organization doing outreach work for battered women, or ministering to prisoners, not to provide even a sampling of its core beliefs to its beneficiaries? Will they adhere to laws affecting the practical implementation of their programs? Most assuredly, the lawyers will be waiting - on both sides - to answer these questions. In fact, the amount of litigation these initiatives have already prompted is proving just how serious the threat to religious liberty - and the First Amendment - is perceived to be.

Even if government assurances were made that funds would only go toward the most dire or basic needs, by funding religious organizations to do this work, government is actively promoting religion because this support frees up other funds the churches take in to concentrate on their true mission: religious instruction and proselytizing. This is plainly an end run around church-state separation.

If we knew the real motives of groups applying for funds to be totally benign and selfless, faith-based initiatives might have a place in our society. Political reality, however, appropriately calls into question these very motives, and warns us not to turn back the clock on a doctrine the demise of which would be a disaster.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Will I Ever Just Let It Be?

The perception of having been seriously aggrieved by one's own parents is no doubt one of the more daunting burdens one can be called upon to bear. So many feelings come into play when navigating these treacherous waters. Love, hate; loyalty, betrayal; anger, fear, guilt - all conspiring to steal away one's sense of emotional well-being.

Sadly, having to dispose of the obscenity that was my religious inculcation as a child has complicated my path to emotional maturity. Only recently have I come to experience some sense of inner reconciliation so vital to the prospects of letting go.

So desperately did I want to begin the healing process with my father, the last words I spoke to him as he lay dying were, "Thanks for being such a good dad, Pop." I thought it right to leave him with something loving from me as he left this world. Funny. Most of the time I didn't think he was a very good dad, but I told him he was in the hopes that it might ease his burden for whatever journey he was about to embark upon.

Finding those words of reconciliation for my dad at that moment was made easier by his having mellowed considerably the more he aged. A little wisdom appeared to come his way. He stopped badgering me about God; starting smiling a little more. I took these subtle changes as a sort of apology for all his mistakes given that he was not disposed to articulating personal apologies as a rule. It seemed he wanted to let go of the past; forgive himself. To deny him this purging of bitterness would have been to deny myself an opportunity for reconciliation and inner peace, to say nothing of the opportunity to love him in a way I hadn't before. I'm thankful a little wisdom befell me on these occasions and I accepted his conciliatory gestures.

Reconciling with my mother is proving much more problematic. The spectre of mental illness has been hanging like a pall over her daily life for many years. It interferes with what's left of her family relationships. And in a cruel twist of circumstance, her illness only drives her more desperately toward her obsessions: God and judging others. The obstinance and aggression I know deep in my heart are symptoms of her illness, but they are nonetheless difficult to get past. Her facade of self assuredness can be quite convincing, yet I know this is simply a tool she uses to cling to whatever is left of her withering sanity. For some reason, her immense suffering - mostly in the form of self-persecution - doesn't reveal itself to some, but to my eyes, it is ominously undeniable.

I am not very hopeful for the prospects of some wisdom coming my mother's way as it did my father. As long as her illness remains untreated, she cannot hear or receive messages of love and wisdom. This saddens me greatly. It seems she won't ask for help because this would mean - in her eyes - that God does not have all the answers, something she is plainly not willing to concede.

One thing I did that eased my consternation was write my mother a letter. One I admittedly haven't sent to her, but as I explained in my very first blog post (where it can be seen) the writing of this letter provided much needed catharsis.

I'm comfortable suggesting there's been progress toward letting go of the anger I have for my father. There's a hint of serenity now where once there was only turmoil. And it's a good feeling. With my mother, anger is no longer my demon. What possesses me now is the burning desire to see her acknowledge her illness and seek treatment for it, because the reward that awaits here - being able to give and receive love - is too precious a commodity to live without.

Maybe we don't ever let go of it completely. If so, hopefully I'll still find some comfort in the knowledge that I have loved as best I could. Perhaps, after all is said and done, that's all we can ask of ourselves.