Sunday, March 27, 2005

I Think, Therefore I Am?

Every year the Columbia Hillel hosts a Yachad shabbaton, when developmentally disabled young adults are brought to our campus for a shabbos. I didn't stay in that shabbos this year, but I was at the shabbaton last year and I remember that it was especially striking to me.

After all, this is an Ivy League institution. A research university. A place that has the names of authors and philosophers engraved around the huge building that houses its library. This is a place that prides itself on intellect and intelligence. And here were these developmentally disabled people that were so antithetical to everything Columbia stands for who came to celebrate shabbos with these grade-obsessed, sleep-deprived students. It was beautiful, but very strange (as in striking).

I bring this up because on Friday I went with some friends to a home for the developmentally disabled. And honestly, I don't know what to think. Part of me was in awe of how the volunteers were able to deal with these children so well, and part of me was so sad for these people who lack so much of what I consider essential.

At this point in my life, I am engaged in a solely intellectual pursuit, and the patients in this home are not privy to the world that is so important to me: to the world of books and libraries and deep thoughts. And to me, that is the ultimate tragedy. I clearly do not go so far as upper-brain death proponents who claim that once an individual cannot think, they should be considered dead, but still there is something absolutely tragic about these people who can't really learn or think or understand the same way we do.

But then I wonder if that's at all a fair view to even have. After all, halachically life has value solely because it is life. Life is inherently something precious, and that has nothing to do with what you accomplish with that life. But even as I acknowledge that, it's so hard for me to accept. And maybe that's the real tragedy.


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