Opinion by Matthew Dowd
No one wants to suffer. We all avoid pain as much as we can. If we hurt, we want someone to come to our aid. But sometimes in life pain and tragedy happen, and there may not be an avenue available externally for us to avoid it or fix it or find someone responsible for it.
I have thought about this quite a bit over the last few years and recently, watching the Zimmerman trial and the tragic circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death. It seems that we have become a society that no matter what happens, we think the path to healing is one where we can blame someone for our pain (by taking someone to court criminally or civilly) or we want someone or the government to write us a check so we can feel better about our circumstances.
Interestingly, we also do this in how we approach our own healthcare. We get sick and we want something to take away our pain and fever. We go to the doctor and demand some prescription that will make us feel better. We want the symptoms of the ailment fixed, and many times we don’t get to the core of the problem. Often a fever is the body’s way of fighting infection and we should let it play its course. Or an ache may be telling us to just stop, pause, rest and relax for a while. But we want a pill that will help us to get back to living our life without pain.
I watched how we handled the horrible circumstances of 9/11. Where we thought the path through pain and loss was setting up a large fund and writing checks to surviving loved ones. And it seems like every time some climate tragedy strikes, the first thing many leaders in communities ask for is money from some government entity. We want to rebuild quickly before really understanding if we should rebuild in a certain place.
I have a tremendous amount of compassion and concern for anyone going through pain, loss and struggle. And I believe that the community should come to the aid of people who are struggling through a tough situation or tragedy. And many times justice demands that we hold responsible parties accountable for bad actions. But I don’t think every bit of loss and pain in life has a solution in finding someone culpable or getting a check.
I have struggled through loss and pain in my own life, and wanted to yell at someone, blame someone, and just relieve myself of that pain. Through divorce, loss of a mom too young, loss of a beautiful younger sister way too young, and loss of child, I have struggled and longed for the pain to go away. I realized through it all, and a long time later, that sometimes bad things happen and no one is to blame. Sometimes there isn’t someone standing by with a bank account to make it all seem better.
And it is through that understanding and walk through pain that one can become more compassionate of others and have a better glimpse of one’s own self — strength and weakness, independence and dependence, and fear and fortitude. And it is this look that opens the door to our own humanity, and a greater capacity to love and help others.
I never knew what to say to the folks who directly suffered through the awful events of 9/11, but I don’t think getting checks really healed their hearts or launching a war that cost even more loss of life gave them a better life. I don’t have the right words for the Martin family who has lost a son way too young, or for the Zimmerman family who faces a lifetime of knowing their son shot and killed another human being. Would sending him to jail make the Martin family feel better? I don’t know. Maybe bad things happen in life and there isn’t a crime involved. That seems to be what the jury thought in Florida.
We are imperfect people with many flaws. And thus the earth is populated with 7 billion imperfect and flawed human beings living in a world where life, the weather, and God’s movements are incredibly unpredictable. And there is the mystery and where much tragedy and pain and loss is likely to spring. And like our own health maybe understanding that pain and walking through it without immediate relief will allow us to see and love more clearly and dearly.
Awful things can happen to us, but we don’t have to become victims in life. We can rise above our struggles and be better people without pointing fingers. As Gandhi once said, “joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.” Let us embrace that fight, and maybe in that loving embrace we will achieve a truer victory.