The beginning of Lent, 2 March

It’s the start of a process leading to Easter eggs – no – they were in the shop a month ago. It’s a time of atonement leading up to the crucifixion of someone, we know little of. No information on his blood type, favourite colour, nickname, and whether he wanted to become a carpenter.

What we know is that crucifixions are barbaric, some victims were tied but we know Jesus was nailed. We have the evidence in the pictures and the forensic nails (relics in Santa Croce Rome, in Venice, Aachen, the Escurial, Nuremberg and Prague).

Seven-inch nails would be driven through the wrists so that the bones there could support the body’s weight. The nail would sever the median nerve, causing immense pain and paralysing the hands. The feet were nailed to the upright part of the crucifix, so that the knees were bent. Once the legs gave way, weight would be transferred to the arms, gradually dragging the shoulders from their sockets. The victim then had to bear his weight on his chest, immediately compromising breathing. Suffocation followed. Someone nailed to a crucifix with their arms stretched out on either side could expect to live for no more than 24 hours.

Pain is neurologically complex involving broad areas of the brain. Reading my friend’s cancer journal, the pain was horrific and lasted well over a year. Drugs from Panadol to methadone to fentanyl barely worked. He wrote, ‘Who would believe that the hardest thing to do at the end of my life is to take a piss.’ He was brave and generous, funny and clever and is a loss to all. His last entry was 20 Sept 2021. Over four months later the pain was finally erased. Despite what opponents to euthanasia claim, not all pain can be eased, especially when cancer riddles the skeleton.

Salvador Dalí, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), 1954.

The scientist J.B.S. Haldane envisioned the future in 40m years, one with a ‘new biology’ for humans. Humans can now live for three thousand years without teeth, disease or pain.[i] He had experienced considerable pain, a fractured skull as a child, several broken bones, two war wounds which gave him pain all his life, an anal abscess and finally rectal cancer. He wrote the poem ‘Cancer’s a funny thing’ while recovering from his first operation for cancer.[ii] After a year of pain, the cancer killed Haldane in December 1964.

”There’s a Jeremy Bentham quote I like,’ [Irene] Tracey said. ‘‘Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.’ These are the two things that drive us, as animals, to do what we do.’[iii]

[i] The Last Judgment, Harper & Brothers, 1927, a sequel to ‘Daedalus’, 1924.

[ii] ‘I wish I had the voice of Homer / To sing of rectal carcinoma, / Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact, /Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.’ J.B.S. Haldane from ‘Cancer’s a Funny Thing’, New Statesman, 21 Feb 1964.

[iii] Nicola Twilley The Neuroscience of Pain, New Yorker, July 2, 2018. Irene Tracey, director Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, known as the Queen of Pain.

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