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The Perils (and Benefits) of Sad Knowledge

Today has been one year since  Haley Paige’s death. (I wrote an obituary to her a few months ago–warning NSFW photo). Over time, the father has provided more details of her tragic ending (which I reprinted in full).

The father has provided remarkable insights into the nature of the tragedy and has put up with the X-rated spam on a fan site to communicate with those who still care.

But are you ready to read it? There are tragedies everywhere, and yet if you let your emotions get too caught up in things you cannot alter or control, you become another victim. No, the human condition is not to be masochists, but we must open our hearts when things change. The Buddha lived a happy life until he confronted  the sight of the sick and suffering.  There is a time to laugh and a time to cry. Just because our eyes open to the suffering of the world doesn’t make laughter  irrelevant;  maybe in fact the ability to laugh becomes more precious as we burden ourselves with knowledge of the world’s inadequacies.  

I am reading a remarkable book, How Proust Can Change your Life by Alan de Botton.  It offers insights:

Why is this painful journey so indispensable to the acquisition of true wisdom?…It is as if the mind were a squeamish organ that refused to entertain difficult truths unless encouraged to do so by difficult events. “Happiness is good for the body,”  Proust tells us, “but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind.” These griefs put us through a form of mental gymnastics which we would have avoided in happier times. Indeed, if a genuine priority is the development of our mental capacities, the implication is that we would be better off being unhappy than content,  better off pursuing tormented love affairs than reading Plato or Spinoza. (Proust writes) A woman whom we need and who makes us suffer elicits from us a whole gamut of feelings far more profound and more vital than does a man of genius who interests us.

It is perhaps only normal if we remain ignorant when things are blissful. When a car is working well, what incentive is there to learn of its complex internal functioning? When a beloved pledges loyalty, why should we dwell on the dynamics of human treachery? What could encourage us to investigate the humiliations of social life when all we encounter is respect? Only when plunged into grief do we have the Proustian incentive to confront difficult truths, as we wail under the bedclothes, like branches in the autumn wind.

Strangely this year I have been struck by a sense of mortality. No, I do not have any fatal diseases (not that i know of!), but  last year a friend told me about a serious diagnosis of cancer which turned out to be unfounded (because of some error). My friend and I were both the same age, and suddenly, death and deterioration we started to worry about. A few weeks ago I saw the remarkable Last Lecture by Randy Pausch  (and the shorter coda which is all the more dramatic). He said, “We  don’t beat the  reaper by living longer; we  beat the reaper by living well and living fully. The reaper will come for all of  us. The question is what do we do between the time we are born and the time he shows up? When he shows up, it is too late to do the things you always wanted to kind of get around to.”

Pausch knew the truth, but on the other hand, he had a fuller life than most people. And yes, if I were to look backwards for a moment, I  have had a relatively full life (more or less).  But how can anyone’s life be completely content when you learn about young person being brought down by hatred or violence. War… it not only seems barbaric….it seems inhuman. Humans were meant to have crappy jobs and crazy girlfriends and weird finances and silly passions and stupid arguments and personal traumas… that is part of being human.   But humans aren’t put on this planet to be abused  or killed by a stray bullet or to suffer from hunger or pain without the possibility of being helped.  Nobody should have to deal with that.  That’s not part of the job description. That’s out of scope.

First, there is the question of the unfairness of everything, then there is the question of, what are you doing to alleviate the suffering of the world?  There is also the  lingering fear that maybe the  victim deserved the  tragic  end (read this terrible story). But no, that is a rationalization. No one can be  pure evil. In middle school I knew a boy who had not an iota of human feeling; he beat everyone up; he was cruel and even enjoyed beating people up. In college I knew a woman who treated men terribly –terribly. At the time I could not understand it. How could a woman be so vindictive? Where was her humanity? Later, with the benefit of wisdom, I began to figure things out. The boy had an abusive family life which he took out on other people; he had totally lost that unguarded innocence that most  middle schoolers still possess.  The woman had anger issues toward males, perhaps because her father sexually abused her. At the time I knew  something was seriously wrong with these people; I just didn’t understand why. Not all of us are  victims, yet a certain segment of the population faces  hardship and suffering; our job is to try to help these people…knowing that for some we will never succeed.

Parts of the world are crying….are we listening? are we listening?

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • JR 12/10/2015, 4:17 pm

    That was really touching..
    Lovely writing.

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