Honoring Those Who Suffer

Life isn’t easy. I was just watching a video about Karen Carpenter and her struggles. In my view, she was one of the best pop singers of all time. She struggled with self esteem all her life and eventually it led to her death. Even so, she went on to enrich the lives of many with her wonderful music. However, she is not alone in her struggles. Sure, she was famous but everyday people also struggle. They don’t get the headlines but somehow they persevere and make a contribution. In spite of their struggles, many face life with courage and a positive attitude. It may be just in simple acts of love for family and friends but it has an impact. Is it any less impactful than those of the famous? No. Every act of love impacts the whole — the communion of all things. Those simple acts accumulate and become a resounding impetus for everything to aspire to and create the good and beautiful.

The thing about suffering is that it forces us to look deeply into what really matters. That focus can plum the depths of our existence and ask profound questions. It can create powerful expressions of longing and hope, just like Karen’s songs do. Now, most of us will seek ways to thwart suffering. It hurts, so why not find ways to avoid it. This can manifest itself into distractions like consumerism or other addictions. Still, in the long run they don’t work. In fact, they can lead to more suffering.

Now, I’m not advocating some sort of masochism — seeking out suffering and reveling in it. Absolutely not. But suffering is telling us something. It’s telling us that being finite will include suffering and evil. To live entails the potential for suffering and evil. There is a fight on. Either we engage in the fight or we succumb to fatalism and despair. The great theologian Paul Tillich wrote a book called “The Courage to Be”. Life is not some utopia with no pain or suffering. It takes courage to be. A utopia or heaven would be so boring and unfulfilling I don’t think anyone would really want it. Instead life offers the potential to be creative. Even amidst the suffering such wonderful things can come about. Those who suffer also experience great moments of fulfillment and meaning. We should revel in that and continue to fight for the good and beautiful.

In metaphysical thinking, often the focus is on the evil present in the world. It is true that there are horrific evils. It makes headlines — “if it bleeds, it leads”. But what about the good? The problem of evil should be countered by the problem of good. Why is there so much good in the world? It may not make the headlines but every day people and other animals constantly act out of kindness, generosity, and concern for the other’s well being. For the most part it goes unnoticed but if we think about the communal impact, it is enormous. I think it speaks to something deep within everything that strives for the good. We tend to focus on the dramatic and off the charts. Instead I think we should acknowledge the pervasive everyday acts of kindness and love that pervade everything in the world. We all suffer, but by embracing the divine within us the good and beautiful becomes real. Let’s keep at it.

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