This is not to say that, for Christian tradition, the soul transcends and survives the earthly life of the body. It is only to say that the soul, rather than being a kind of "guest" within the self, is instead the underlying mystery of a life in its fullness. In it the multiplicity of experience is knit into a single continuous and developing identity. It encompasses all the dimensions of human existence: animal functions and abstract intellect, sensation and reason, emotion and reflection, flesh and spirit, natural aptitude and supernatural longing. As such, it grants us an openness to the world of which no other creature is capable, allowing us to take in reality through feeling and thought, recognition and surprise, will and desire, memory and anticipation, imagination and curiosity, delight and sorrow, invention and art. . . .
Granted, it is easiest to sense this mystery when gazing at the Sistine Chapel's ceiling or listening to Bach. But it should be evident--for Christians at least--even when everything glorious and prodigious in our nature has been stripped away and all that remains is frailty, brokenness and dependency, or when a person we love has been largely lost to us in the labyrinth of a damaged brain. Even among such ravages--for those with the eyes to see it--a terrible dignity still shines out.
I do not understand exactly why those who wanted Terri Schiavo to die had become so resolute in their purposes by the end. If she was as "vegetative" as they believed, what harm would it have done, I wonder, to surrender her to the charity (however fruitless) of her parents? Of this I am certain, though: Christians who understand their faith are obliged to believe that she was, to the last, a living soul. It is true that, in some real sense, it was her soul that those who loved her could no longer reach, but it was also her soul that they touched with their hands and spoke to and grieved over and adored. And this also means that it was a living soul that we as a society chose to abandon to starvation and thirst--which should, at the very least, give us cause to consider what else we may have abandoned along the way.
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