Suffering

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Some people have hard lives. That’s just a truism, but I think a lot of us know people who have had it hard, maybe harder than we have. I haven’t had a hard life. I’ve always been able to make enough money to live comfortably, and most suffering I’ve endured has been the result of bad decisions on my part. Others haven’t been so lucky.

My late wife, for instance, had Lupus, a very debilitating disease, which forced her to go on disability. It wasn’t that she was unwilling to work. When she was growing up, her family had money, and she inherited some of it when her parents died. But between her siblings (whom she felt never cared about her) and her so-called friends, she managed to lose it. So she went to work.

She made her share of mistakes. One of them was marrying the man who had impregnated her. He came from a family of alcoholics, abused her, and molested their daughter. That wasn’t a good decision, obviously, and she got out of that marriage when she was able.

She made me aware of a couple of things I hadn’t known before. Even though I’m in the healthcare profession, I hadn’t realized how much bad health can impact a person’s life. Now I know somewhat better. All my wife wanted was a normal life, but her body wouldn’t allow it.

One of my wife’s friends told me that the only wedding she’d been to was her own. I thought that was somewhat odd. I thought that as you grow up, you have friends, and naturally, you go to their weddings. My wife later confessed that was true of her too. Think of how isolated such people must be. Isolation doesn’t make for a happy life. You can isolate yourself through bad decisions, but a lot of people become isolated through little fault of their own. Society includes, but it also excludes; there are always people eager to exclude others, and sometimes that becomes very popular. Scapegoating is part of that desire to exclude, and becomes especially popular when a society becomes unstable, people don’t know what their future’s going to be, and are looking around for someone to blame.

Jesus is reported to have said, Judge not, that ye be not judged. I don’t think we can take that saying literally. I don’t think we can keep ourselves from judging others, nor should we. What I think Jesus was getting at was, judge yourself before you judge anyone else, and judge yourself at least as harshly as you judge anyone else. The sin of pride that he attributed to the Pharisees is one most of us share. Consciously or not, we tend to believe ourselves superior to others. From a God-like point of view, none of us really is; we’re attached to ourselves and like to believe we’re better. And if we begtin to see ourselves in a more realistic light, that vision can be hard to bear.

One of my acquaintences has also had health problems most of her life, but hasn’t allowed them to stop her from doing what she wanted to do. She works the night shift at the same nursing home I do, then goes home to be with her 6 year old son, so she rarely gets as much sleep as most of us require. She doesn’t allow that to keep her from living a pretty full life, though, being involved in writing and music, and having a lot of friends. She’s a very friendly and loving person, so people gather around her. I doubt she’ll ever be wealthy, and her health may make her later years miserable, but she doesn’t allow that to keep her from living. Not all of us are that strong, which is not to say many of us couldn’t be.

Some of us allow ourselves to get lost in physical or emotional pain, and I include myself in that group. That’s the kind of thing that can lead to one kind of addiction or another, and we have plenty of addicts in this country. Maybe a lot more than we think, considering that people can get addicted to almost anything that will make them feel better, or that they think will. Addiction may indicate a person seeing no way out of their situation, whether that’s true or not. Or they may see a way out, but be afraid of the pain that will accompany it. Nobody likes pain, but those who can embrace it with the right spirit can achieve amazing things. Many of us never get that far.

I think some part of us wants to live deeply and fully, but that necessarily includes seeing ourselves as we are, and that may not be a pleasant sight. It’s easier to condemn other people’s sins than repair the damage our own have done. I think that’s one of the roots of the bullying we hear a lot about now. Whatever initiates the bullying, it can be so hard to bear that some teenagers commit suicide because of it. Why do bullies behave that way?

I suppose some bullying is natural, and will always be with us. People like to mess with each other, especially in their teens. But if no one draws a line beyond which bullies are not allowed to go, bullying can be deadly. Parents are the first ones responsible, but not all parents will be responsible. Their children may bully because of their parents beliefs, so the parent sees nothing to disapprove of. But bullying strikes me as the effect of terrible feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. We want to see ourselves as good people (and teenagers, at least in this society, are more insecure than healthy children or adults), and it’s easier to punish others for our bad feelings than to seek ways to heal ourselves.

Personally, I’m not that much of a role-model. I was given a lot as a child and young adult, and haven’t done nearly as much with it as I could have. Sometimes people congratulate me for behaving in a particular way, but I usually feel it’s simply the right thing to do. In other words, you can attribute such good behaviors to my upbringing, rather than any good decision I made.

But I have a vague kind of vision of love being as contagious as hate often is. Some people are so loving and friendly that they gather others around them. I know some people like that. Wouldn’t it be nice to make the size of those groupls larger, so they could combat the hatefulness all too evident in today’s world? I think a lot of us are trying to do that, consciously or not. That’s a dream I’d like to see come true.

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