House and Philosophy: Finding the Meaning of Life Through Death

House and Philosophy: Deserving Cancer

“It’s pathetic. I’m pathetic. An oncologist with cancer. Of all the things that could be killing me. It’s like the universe giving me the big middle finger.”

“The universe doesn’t care—“

Wilson interrupts “Why me? I’m always telling my patients not to torture themselves because there is no answer.”

“Sound advice.”

“It’s cruel advice. They were just trying to make sense of what was happening to them and I’m there telling them not to bother. I should have spent my life being more like you. Should have been a manipulative, self-centered, narcissistic ass who brought misery to everything and everyone in his life.”

“You’d still have cancer.”

“Yeah, but at least I’d feel like I deserved it.”

In this exchange between Dr. House and his long-time friend Dr. Wilson, Wilson explores his struggle with finding meaning through cancer and the looming possibility of death.Throughout the entire series, Wilson is the one who typically serves as the empathetic moral guide for the show. Yet, when confronted with is own death, he begins to question the way he has chosen to live his life.

Wilson is facing the dilemma of why bad things happen to good people. Many people hold a worldview that in some way or another upholds the stance that people ultimately get what they deserve. Some version of this runs through western religions like Christianity’s Heaven/Hell concept and through eastern religions like Buddhism’s karma concept.

The problem is, most of those imply that the justice will come after we’ve died in this life. And that leaves injustice and suffering and a lack of absolute certainty that things ever will be put right while we’re still alive. We often try to apply these ideas within our life on earth, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. One of my favorite quotes regarding this outlook comes from the show Six Feet Under:

If you think life is a vending machine where you put in virtue and get out happiness, you’re going to be disappointed.

The truth is, bad things do happen to good people. Finding a way to make peace with that is an extremely important part of living the good life. Why? It’s just what Wilson says – we as humans seem to have a built in desire to feel like we deserve whatever it is that we get in this life.

And yet, when you think about, that’s not really the case at all. Chance plays such a huge role in how our lives turn out. Does anyone get to choose where they’re born? Of course not, yet think about how different the opportunities are if you’re born in the United States or in Africa. Sure, in either location it’s possible to achieve much with your life, but no one can deny that in America, there is much greater opportunity. Just like where we’re born, so many other things are affected by chance.

So how do we reconcile the fact that we don’t get what we deserve, for better or worse? As Wilson says, there is really no answer.

Personally, I take some comfort in an existential outlook on life. We are thrust into existence without a purpose, but every action that we then choose to take creates our purpose and is like our little vote for what we think humanity ought to be. If we believe humanity ought to be kind and caring, then we ought to act kind and caring.  Wilson, with the choices he had made in his life, was voting for something like this. So why does he get so upset when faced directly with the prospect of death?

We are all born with a terminal disease!

None of us is immortal. We will all die of something. The sooner we face that, the more fully we can truly live our life.

If you’re looking for a great reminder on this, check out “The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying F*ck About You.” for a powerful push in the direction of what does matter:

You don’t matter to the planets and the sun and the stars, but you matter to YOU. You matter to those around you. You matter to those you can reach, and touch, and who you live and die with.

It’s clear Wilson never confronted his own death, even in dealing with the death of his patients every day. Don’t make the same mistake. Face your death, right now, today. Look it in the eyes. Know it’s coming and that the only question is when. Own that reality.

Then, the only question left is: what do you want your life to be?

I urge you take the time to reflect, ruminate, ponder, and do your best to answer that question as soon as you can.

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