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The gift of life

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Terry Soleas

"Blood can bring out the best of human virtues, our basest urges and some of the worst in humanity.” Lawrence Hill, a celebrated and acclaimed Canadian author was at Congress on Thursday, May 29 to deliver one of his Massey Series of Lectures on the topic of blood’s place in society, based on his bestseller Blood, the Stuff of Life.

Hill, a celebrated writer of both fiction and non-fiction stated early in his lecture that “There is much to unite those write fiction & those who write non-fiction”. He also quipped that when he told his mother that he was delivering a Big Thinking lecture she asked him ”That’s great Larry, but why you?”

On the topic of blood’s place in society, Hill stated that it holds a central dichotomy in the human psyche as blood can embody the best of humankind as often as it can manifest in the worst of human acts. Blood giving is a high form of philanthropy, in stark contrast to the blood-letting during the Spanish Inquisition, where thousands of lives were ended based on the idea of purity of blood.

Blood in ancient times, and times not so ancient was and is used to describe your identity. Statements like “I am half white”, or “half black” are at least partially based on the blood thought to be in our veins. Hill asked “Who is in charge of your identity?” Are you more than the ethnic content of your veins? “Who is to say that you are half-white or half that based on blood” Blood tells your story, but it remains your story.

“No other fluid is as noble or as terrifying as blood.” Again and again Hill, stirred the audience with metaphor and rhetoric about the magic, at least to us, that blood holds.

In fact, it was argued by Hill, that iambic pentameter, the rhythm of Shakespeare’s works follows the drum of the human heart.

Napoleon Bonaparte, a man on the receiving end of many of histories more regrettable treatments of maladies, and numerous blood-lettings is quoted as saying that “Medicine is the science of murderers.”

There it is again, blood as both poetry and horror.

Now, blood as a unifying force…

When a patient is in need of blood, “Did it come from black people or white people… did it matter?” Does it matter whether the donor was black or white? It used to. Up until the 1970’s black donated blood could not be transfused into white recipients.

This raises the modern question of how different we are on the inside?

Hill ended on a palpably hopeful note “I hope blood unites us”

Blood truly is “the stuff of life.”

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Congress of the Humanities and Social SciencesCongress 2014Big Thinking