Archive for the ‘suffering’ Category

Small and simple acts

March 15, 2008

Whenever I’m walking in Christchurch or Wellington my rule is that if I can see a piece of litter and a rubbish bin at the same time I’ll pick up the former and put it in the latter. Sometimes I extend this if I can’t see a bin but am fairly sure there’ll be one soon.

When I was in Sydney last week I found this was much harder. There was so much litter it would have taken me twice as long to get anywhere. I ended up not picking up any as it just didn’t seem like I’d be making any sort of dent in it. Over a couple of days it faded into the background and I stopped noticing it at all.

Another thing that was different from the NZ cities I spend time in was the number of homeless people. Not just in the parks but lying down on footpaths, sitting in gutters, shaking and bereft while hundreds of people walked past them every few minutes.

While out for a run it struck me that the problem is the same. While there are probably a similar number of homeless people per capita in Christchurch and Sydney, in a densely populated city you just see more of them every day. Because they seem more numerous a type of ‘learned helplessness’ sets in among the people that could help. There are just so many homeless people, what difference could one act of kindness really make? So people go about their busy days, and before too long the people lying in the gutter just fade into the background.

People are not litter. They do not deserve to be cast aside, forgotten and alone. What can we do to pick up those whom others have dropped? What are the small things we could do everyday? What would the world be like if even one in every ten people picked up a few pieces of litter, and did something to help the less fortunate among us?


Oceans of tears

August 14, 2007

Mothers shouldn’t die. At least they shouldn’t die young. They shouldn’t die before they get to see their grandchildren, or their children’s weddings.

But sometimes they do.

There’s something about your mother dying. The person who gave you life, now gone. It’s like a schism with the world, a cutting off from the source. And that, itself, is worth oceans of tears. Tears for the conversations you might have had if they were still around. Tears for the joy they would have had spending time with their grandchildren. Tears for the loss of the love they would have kept on giving. Oceans and oceans of tears.

Those tears are for a reason though. They show the love that was there. They are a way of physically and emotionally letting go. I still don’t really understand grief, but I do know it’s something you have to do. Something you have to open yourself to. And that hurts. But in the opening there’s a kind of acceptance. An ability to feel joy at what that person’s life meant to you. A sense of pride when you see their love, their giving, still acting in the world, through the people they influenced, the things they said and did.

Death is just a part of the great mystery. But it still hurts.

Applied faith

March 17, 2006

Pete’s post “No suffering for the chosen few” reminds me of a story about a man who was very sick, and believed that God would heal him. His friends were very worried and sent the local doctor to see him, but he said “no, do not come in, I have faith that God will heal me”. So his concerned friends sent a specialist, and the specialist convinced the man to let him see him, but then refused all treatments the specialists prescribed. “God will heal me he said”. A few days later the man died. Once he got to Heaven he met with God. “God”, he said “I had faith that you would heal me and you did not”. God responded “I sent all those doctors, what else were you expecting?”.

I question the belief that God acts only in miracles, and only for those who are ‘worthy’ or ‘devout’. To me the story above illustrates the difference between blind faith and applied faith. Napolean Hill said that faith “has to be actively directed in some direction”.

I do consider it possible that those who have applied faith may often do better in life, and have less suffering. Regarding the quote Pete cites “…I was young, now I am old, but I have never seen a righteous man go hungry, or his children begging for bread.”, I think it is possible that it’s not some arbitrary reward handed down from on high, but that this applied faith leads the ‘righteous person’ to do something about impending hunger, to provide for their family. That said, I acknowledge the terrible suffering that can come to people no matter how much applied faith they have, Tom Fox being a very clear example of this to me.

This leads me to the difference between physical suffering and spiritual suffering. Faith may not always be able to protect us from physical suffering. Perhaps though, it can make a difference in emotional/mental/spiritual suffering. On this line of thought, maybe it’s not so much what happens to us, but how we react to it, the meaning we assign to it. Victor Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning about the holocaust victims who lived with him in a Nazi concentration camp, that those that survived were the ones that were able to create some meaning for themselves in the situation. Many lived because they were resolutely committed to surviving to tell their story, to make sure this never happened every again on Earth.

He says “Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” p.104. There are some more quotes here.