On Human Suffering

Much of what we do in this world is meant to eradicate our own suffering. All humans are like trapped and wounded animals at some point, even those who’ve cultivated an image of polish and success or fortitude. It’s impossible to avoid pain. Physical, emotional, mental: one of these, maybe all of these, will eventually find us.

While some are content to wallow in it alone, far too many will cause others pain in order to avoid their own. They’ll step on others, steal from them, bear false witness against them, and in more extreme cases, take others’ lives. They do this out of primitive or base self-preservation, or perhaps because of deep envy that doesn’t allow for the empathetic understanding that the beautiful person or the wealthy person actually feels very deep pain, too.

I began thinking of this last week when I was suffering. I was suffering from a lack of sleep and a church-wide Daniel fast I was taking part in. I engaged in the fast willingly (brought on my own pain, in other words); it just happens that my digestion can’t handle a vegan diet. My digestion can’t handle much of anything, I’ve learned throughout my life. By the end of the fast, my whole body was on fire with inflammation, achy joints, and intestinal distress. And I was exhausted from chronic lifelong insomnia and digestive pain, and begging God to take it away, just as I’d been doing from childhood. God has not done this. Instead, he’s sustained me through it and given my insight into human suffering. I know my suffering isn’t as bad as so many others’, and in fact, it’s the way I’ve lived my life and is, therefore, the only normal I know. I hate to admit that I’m suffering at all, but that is a stupid egotistical stance that causes stinginess toward my fellow humans. More on that in a minute.

In my determination to take control back from where I’d let my mind slip, I put suffering out of my head and took care of business. Some people binge eat for comfort; I forget to eat in my quest to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish! That’s my crack. And then this morning, I found myself watching a speech by a man with Down syndrome, John Franklin Stephens, who spoke of how much he valued his life. To be honest, I started crying. And my “deep thoughts” of human suffering worked their way to the fore again. They had to be thought through instead of avoided in the same way that suffering itself can’t be avoided.

Stephens’ speech was given to the United Nations, and it was an appeal to consider people like him as humans and not disorders. Consequently, the video has been making its rounds through the pro-life internet. See, his message is very relevant to the issue of abortion because abortion is ultimately a response to human suffering. Women who have abortions want to avoid their own suffering, and they want to avoid giving birth to babies who suffer. They are very much like a trapped and wounded and animal, who would chew their own foot off and make-believe this will ease their pain — because at the moment of their pregnancy diagnosis they don’t see their baby as a baby, but a condition. And if the baby has its own condition, that’s what they see. They see suffering and not humanity, and their primary goal is to end this suffering by any means possible.

As a Christian, what is, or what should my response to suffering be? This is perhaps the most crucial of all questions. While I was going through that Daniel fast and suffering from pain and chronic insomnia, we had prayer meetings at church, in which the pastor specifically prayed over people with insomnia (he doesn’t know me at all, so he had no idea then and still doesn’t know this is my biggest struggle). My insomnia didn’t abate, but others’ did, and it was hard — I mean, really hard to listen to their testimonies without feeling that God had forgotten about me. There are many Protestant sects that instill in their congregants the idea that if God doesn’t heal them, it’s because their faith is lacking. This might be unwitting, as in, not the actual doctrine, but to people who are suffering, listening to others talk about their miraculous faith healings is a thorny rose to cling to that is like the dog chewing off its own wounded foot. Focusing on having enough faith for our pain to disappear doesn’t help us through it. Catholicism doesn’t skirt the issue of suffering, and this is possibly why I find it attractive.* This is taken from The Divine Mercy, where there is also a link to the full apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II on human suffering, which this summarizes:

The Pope said that there are two basic attitudes that we should have toward human suffering. We should do what good we can for the suffering, and we should try to do what good we can with our own sufferings.

First, we should try to relieve the sufferings of others (and our own) as much as possible, with compassionate care. The Pope recalls for us the importance of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in this regard. But where our own crosses cannot be taken away, we can still offer them up, in union with the Cross of Jesus, for the good of others. United with His Cross, in the Holy Spirit, our sufferings can thereby become a source of blessings and graces for the Church and the world. The chronically ill and suffering are therefore not just to be objects of our pity: they have an important vocation in the Church.

That last part is very important: Those who are suffering have an important vocation in the church. But first we have to acknowledge suffering for what it is: an inevitable part of being human. Once we’re able to work through our own suffering — not avoid it or smother it with pleasure or feigned strength — we’ll be better equipped to allieve the suffering of others, even those we hardly recognize as suffering, such as women who are ready to abort their own offspring. Earlier, I said that my disavowal of my own suffering causes me to be stingy towards others. This is because it forces me to quantify how much suffering should actually be considered valid, rather than just accept that it is all valid. All humans are in need of compassion and help, including me. All humans are in need of the divine model of suffering, Jesus, to walk with them through their pain.

*It seems to fit with how hard it is to become Catholic in the first place. If frustration with the moving goal posts of confirmation is a type of suffering, the Catholic church sure knows how to dole it out. đŸ™‚

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Reader Burnout

I’ve often wondered how long this fad for quickly written pulp fiction will last before burnout occurs. While it’s true publishers in the early 20th C cranked out cheaply made books for the masses, they were working with a smaller pool of authors and didn’t, obviously, have ebook technology. Even the term “pulp” refers to the cheap paper they printed their books on. Pulp is a product from a different era, when poor people didn’t have expensive Netflix accounts to sate their thirst for entertainment. That’s the irony of our modern technology; the janitor at the local grocery store scrolls on an expensive smartphone on his break. Quite often an iPhone — which is out of my reach monetarily, and I’m not that poor. Just of a generation that doesn’t care. Or a member of the Apple-hating crowd. Snort. I’m kidding. But I still have an expensive phone I could waste a lot of good reading hours on.

Entertainment is everywhere, and much of it is free. Despite that, readers are readers and will always come back to books as their refuge. However, if they’re anything like me, they can’t keep up with the dizzying publishing schedules of their favorite authors. Not only can’t, but in my case, there’s a definite won’t in there. But my curmudgeonly spirit is meant in the most generous way. See, I don’t want to get burnt out on my favorite authors. I want to feel the joy of finally, finally obtaining the newest book in that series I love so much. I used to have a number of those series I waited for, and the new books in each rarely came out at the same time, which meant constantly having a coveted new read. Those were exciting and heady days for me as a reader.

Now the market is saturated with the ebook versions of pulp: books that are cheaply edited rather than cheaply printed. What’s more, these are mostly indie authors — millions of them, far too many of whom are cranking out books. This might be a current fad, but there’s no longevity in it. A saturated market is not good for individual sellers. In fact, the opposite (scarcity), while probably an equally bad marketing choice, psychologically tricks the buyers into thinking the product has a higher value than it actually does. Flooding the market overwhelms your audience as well as their precious bank accounts.

I’ve gone through burnout on some of my favorite living authors. I just can’t be compelled to buy into their latest series. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. I have a brain wired for change, new ideas and voices. So perhaps I’m at the extreme end of the intolerance spectrum for too much, too much, too much. Eventually, the rest of the readership will catch up to me. I’m positive; I actually think it’s already happening.

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Twitter Crisis

I’m already having one. Without social media, I go through each day accomplishing the work I have: writing/editing in the morning, and tutoring in the afternoon. Without social media, writing excites me. My imagination is in tune with the universe. I matter, my job(s) matter, and my writing matters to the audience I imaginatively conjure.

When I’m on social media, I see the Tweets scrolling by, and I lose hope. The news is bleek and humans are mean and cynical. Sometimes, they’re funny or heartwarming, too, but I’m a passive observer of even the positive. I realize my writing is a raindrop in a vast ocean. It doesn’t matter. By extension, I don’t matter.

I know I’m not alone in the nihilism that falls like a lead apron over my heart, blocking out the radiating sunshine, after using social media. But why? Why does social media cause this? That’s rhetorical; don’t answer. In fact, don’t even ask. It just is.

Don’t ask why. It just is. Repeat chorus.

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Hazards of Time Travel

This is a book by Joyce Carol Oates. I had taken a break from fiction for a while; nonfiction is a refuge for me because it’s almost never boring. That is, reality filtered through human thoughts is perpetually fascinating. I’m not sure this was a good book to get me back into fiction, specifically SF. The author is not, whatever the case, known for SF.

Oates is a silent generation author, liberal-minded, but in a different way from the boomer generation. Oates, although about ten years younger than my grandma (if my grandma were still alive — actually, my husband has a living grandma who is in her 90s; I don’t), shares some of my grandma’s characteristics. That generation lived through the depression, at least for a few years of their childhood, as well as World War II. They have, or had, a steely sort of quietude to the way they approach the world, combined with a penchant for enjoying life despite negative circumstances. They are apt at masking their feelings and acting resourcefully.

Oates brings these characteristics to her stories, and this includes The Hazards of Time Travel. The female protagonist is meant to be either gen Z or the upcoming generation, but she is imbued with much of the silent generation’s resourcefulness and coping methods to get along, despite the world she’s been thrust into. This alone gives this dystopic novel a unique flavor, since most current novels of this genre are written by millennials. Also, Oates has had a long career writing literary novels, which is is not usual for dystopian time travel. Or, I guess I should say, it isn’t necessarily what the readers of the genre want or expect. I’ve heard SF has been overtaken with literary drek these days, but I don’t read much produced by Tor any longer. Also, much of literary brings a boomer approach to storytelling, edgy stuff that’s meant to shock, but rather disgusts instead (e.g. incest and pedophilia).

I don’t know if I wanted or expected Oates’ projected dystopian world, either. It’s a little muddled. There’s both a sharp critique of the extant tradition of conservatism in the early 60s, as well as a sharp critique of what happens when you get rid of it and live in a liberal dystopian nightmare. The time of the past is a happier time for her protagonist, despite the author’s insinuation that it’s all lies and hypocrisy.

But Oates lived it. It’s possible that, in her circumspect way, she’s giving both the good and bad of her youthful days, while demonstrating what the US will become if we throw it away. There also seems to be an unironic examination of McCarthyism, in which the main characters know the cold war doesn’t end in a communist takeover (they are, after all, time travelers from the future), and yet still they rail against the forces that prevented communism from spreading…as if it were never a threat to be taken seriously…and yet, the future dystopia looks a lot like the worst of the KGB or the STASI. So… apparently it did happen, but the author doesn’t recognize it. Also, there is an unironic bent toward pacifism with no understanding of how one creates or maintains that.

All in all, it’s an easy read with a surprising romance. I enjoyed it, but it loses a lot of steam by the end because the essential problem is never confronted or solved. And, as I said, the politics are muddled; there is no answer clearly given for how to avoid the future.

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Chaos Is Evil

The country is getting darker. First, it was New York’s passing of a late-term abortion bill. Then, it was Virginia’s governor admitting that a proposed abortion bill allowing up-to-birth abortions would also allow murdering a child after birth. Sadly, this morning, I learned New Mexico’s Rep. Joanne Ferrary had proposed a similar bill here, which passed in the House committee three days ago. Yes, that’s right: in a one-time Catholic state, they’re trying to bring us abortion without restriction.

Our country’s belief system is chaotic, and underneath, chaos does have a foundation: evil. When Enlightenment thinkers penned the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, they had a foundation that stemmed from the government they came from, which had a state church (and, yes, I believe I’m using state appropriately). Our founding fathers didn’t understand what they were doing when they determined a state religion was anathema to freedom. It isn’t. Rather, it provides a philosophical basis for a nation. If you destroy that, and determine all religions can vie for control of laws, you end up with the loudest voices controlling the system…and, in the case of legalized blood lust, Satan has the loudest voice. Satan will always try to eradicate the light by influencing people to murder babies. Always. He did it in Egypt, influencing Pharaoh to murder Israelite babies. He did it during Jesus’s time, under the wicked King Herod. In both cases, this was an attempt to prevent the Savior from coming to the world. But how much more effective can he be operating under Moloch, and demanding mothers murder their own babies? Wicked rulers aren’t necessary when a nation that should have borne the light of the gospel will murder themselves out of existence.

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