Blog Fragment #3: Learning the Skill of Suffering

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #3.

I could go into the list, but I think it might be more important to ask: why, if we have it better than we have at any point we ever have, (at least in this country), do we think the exact opposite?

The answer is really quite simple. For the first time in human history, we are immediately aware of all the suffering of the world in real-time.

At the same time, we have lost the communal and spiritual skills to process it well. We think that suffering (for ourselves or for others) means that something has gone wrong in the Way Life Should Be. A minor tragedy, (say, an appliance that breaks at an inconvenient moment or a latte gone terribly wrong at Starbucks), creates a sense of injustice and general hand-wringing. A major tragedy: the untimely death of a family member, an act of cruel and senseless violence in our community, a horrid natural disaster, goes so far beyond our capacity that we almost always run away, start fighting, or just check out.

When I was working as an on-call chaplain at a funeral home in Haverhill, I met hundreds of people in the aftermath of losing their loved ones. For many, it was clear that they were honestly facing death for the first time and simply had no resources to do so well, beyond a few bromides they had heard on television, and a conviction that they had to keep it all together. I spent most of my time trying to listen them into more honest grieving, but oftentimes, ended up with short, socially awkward times of remembrance, where every person was a saint, heaven always got a new angel, and it was somehow all in God’s plan.

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