Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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Cloning Breakthrough Interesting, But No Miracle

“There is hope in bringing Ted Williams back, after all,” cloning and stem cell expert John Gearhart of the University of Pennsylvania said in an e-mail. The family of Williams, the Boston Red Sox hitter, had his body frozen by cryogenics firm Alcor after he died in 2002.

Gearhart was only half-joking and said the study “may now stimulate the small industry of freezing parts of us before we die to bring us back in the future.”

Frozen mice cloned – are woolly mammoths next? | Reuters

While this is unquestionablye another breakthrough in biochemical science that will certainly have (presently unknown) applications, the above statement is nonsense.  No one can be “brought back” by cloning.  At most, one could produce a similar-looking person with identical genetics.  Individuals, however, are a product mostly of their environment and the way they are raised, and there is no way to control those all-important factors to reproduce a famous ballplayer — or a saint.  Nutritional differences alone would prevent it, among literally billions of other things.

Scientists who make remarks like this (even in jest) do a great disservice by further misinforming an already ignorant public who are afraid of processes they don’t begin to understand properly.  They also raise the hopes of people who need to be working through their grief, not prolonging it.

I wonder if this guy has money in one of those companies?  Hmmmmm?


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Not the Easiest Mother’s Day

It is hard to know what to write, this Mother’s Day.

My mother was born in 1908. When she was buried last Saturday, there was no one in the church who had lived a single day in a world without her in it. That she is no longer here is incomprehensible — unthinkable. Our minds — mine at least — simply cannot wrap themselves around the concept. The matriarch has fallen? Not possible. And yet… Continue reading


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Marie Claire Webb 1908 – 2008

My mother, Marie Claire Webb (Mommie Claire to her 55 descendants and hosts of others), died peacefully this morning.
She was 99 years, 5 months and 15 days old.

Mom, her great-great-granddaughter Madison Jones,
and youngest great-granddaughter, Selina Kile
(Christmas, 2005)

Mom was born in Coleraine, Minnesota in 1908, and moved with her family to St. Augustine, FL in 1916, when she was 5 years old. They later moved to Lake Wales, FL, where they settled in an area on the east side of town known as the French Colony. In 1926 she married my father, Capt. Theodore W. Webb, in the first wedding performed at St. Anne’s Shrine.

Shortly after their marriage, Mom and Dad moved from Palm Jungles, their homestead on Lake Pierce northeast of Lake Wales, to Lake Stearns, FL — later renamed Lake Placid. There, they opened and ran the first service station Continue reading


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A Hero’s Life

My mother is dying.

She is in hospice, taking no liquids, receiving only palliative care, visited by loved ones. When Michele and I visited two weeks ago — it’s a 650-mile round trip — she was showing substantial dementia, but rallied and was able to enjoy the visits of several of her 58 descendants. She knew us all, was able to recognize and admire my daughter’s wedding gown, and had a good day. Today, tomorrow, or the day after, however, her 99-year-old body will finish its job, and she will leave us.

I can’t help but think that there comes a time when being a “tough old bird” is no longer an advantage. My mom is that, in the best sense: an uncomplaining, common, ordinary, garden-variety hero, with the toughness and tenacity common to her generation. For many years she has caused me to think of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (The Life of a Hero), over which he caught much flack for presenting himself as the protagonist, but which has come to be — to me — a celebration of the hero in all of us that shows up, if we’re lucky, when we need it.

Strauss demurred, in the face of criticism, saying that he lacked the strength to be a hero. But isn’t that what heroism is: finding the strength to do what needs to be done, even when one doesn’t have it to hand? My mom has that in spades.

Nonetheless, there is a time to let go, a time when our tone poem has reached its finale, and the quality of life is no longer commensurate with the effort. There is no way of knowing, really, if she has reached that point. Although she experiences more and more seeming dementia, we cannot know what is happening inside. She may be writing her own masterpiece yet, and simply no longer be able to allow it out to inspire the rest of us.

Let us hope…believe…that she is hearing the sweetest music possible, and that her finale is appropriate to the hero’s life that she has led.