How do you react when you see someone in pain?
It’s just a question. Humor me, please.
I’m curious because I’ve been consumed of late with this crazy, and I’d like very much for someone to prove me wrong.
I don’t know when it all started to coalesce within my head, but the furtive rustlings of this burgeoning young madness have been with me for a number of days now. Sleep is restless when it comes at all”¦those who know me well enough can attest to the fact that that’s nothing new to me. Sleep has always been a precious commodity in my world. Sleep. Sleep is what I need. Sleep is the magical panacea for all that ails us, you know? It’s no small wonder to me that so many people have succumbed to the allure of chasing fantastic dreams in the smoke filled opium dens of the world. But, I digress. Forgive me.
See, I guess it all started some number of days ago with the acknowledgement of some very bad news concerning the health of someone close to me. Or no, maybe it started long before that. I’m unsure of the details, but I beg that you’ll try to follow me in this senseless rant for a moment longer. I’ve a question to ask or a statement to make, or something. Something.
Maybe it started somewhere in the details of what I spend my time doing, most of the day long, week after week. I work in a catholic hospital at the moment and take care of all manner of suffering people, many of them old and not long for this world. It’s hard work to be sure, hard in ways that don’t immediately present themselves to the mind. Some notable few of the people under my care are three priests of the faith, one monsignor, and a bishop of the church, all of them elderly and in their dying times. For the past few weeks, I’ve cared for these people in ways that transcend the boundaries of simple duty. More than that, I’ve watched them, stood by them. I’ve held their hands during moments of trembling weakness and listened to them weep their fears and regrets to me. Questions arise here. Many intractable questions arise and I’m frighteningly short on comfortable answers.
See, it occurs to me that we hurt. People, as a general rule, suffer. Surely, there are places in the world where people suffer more profoundly than others, yet to a degree we all must face the same terrible milestones in our lives (such as the passing of loved ones), and even our very existences must ultimately end in a similar fear. We die alone. Even crowded around with family (a sight that I have yet to see four years into hospital service), each and every one of us passes through that veil utterly alone. We know this for fact. What’s more, whether clergy, paupers, or princes, there are no reprieves. That lonely old bishop dying huddled and frightened in his dimly lit room is dying from the same cancer that’s eating at the guts of the housewife up the hall. And there’s nothing either he, with his hotline to God, or I, girded with the cutting edge of medical science, can do to alter that course. Nothing.
(But I, at least, can ease their pain.)
And so, flowing into this great sweepingly nonsensical tangent of thought, I’m drawn to consider the pangs and angst of adolescence, the sensation of awakening within our guts of this great, primal fear that comes with the realization that death is streaking toward each of us with every ticking second. I think that to some extent we’ve all faced this early in our adulthood. For the most part, acknowledgement of this fear is severely downplayed from a social perspective. I mean, there’s a great deal of literature out there dealing with teen pregnancy and similar pap, but where are the pamphlets for the kids all caught up in the futility of living? Is that what we turn to religion for? Is that acceptable? What I’m saying is that this terrible fear and sense of futility are real issues, real feelings that carry real consequences and deserve some tangible degree of attention”¦and they’re never really socially acknowledged or properly dealt with. Selling someone on a grand cosmic fairytale is not a reasonable form of alternative therapy in my opinion.
Right now, I think we’re living in a seriously fucked-up world with far too many people effectively pretending that everything’s running along perfectly smoothly, perfectly happily. Answers for the hardest questions simply materialize out of thin air and come far too implausibly and easily, while answers to comparatively simple questions seem all but unanswerable. Instead of actually lending of ourselves, we dissemble to one another. Popes and priests, warlocks and shamans, Gods and Devils, we’ve a countless thousand names and titles for those we’ve elected to mediate the sacred mysteries that were never really all that sacred or mysterious to begin with. To be sure, what we empirically know of our world, that deep-down unshakable truth that no amount of self-directed prevarication can completely conceal, is bereft of mercy and compassion. We know that the immalleable fabric of reality shows no proclivities toward striking bargains with us any time soon. Still, we continue to kneel before our collected effigies and to whisper our desperations into the shadows of our midnight bedrooms rather than strike out and provide that much needed compassion to one another, ourselves.
So, I ask you what you do when you see someone in pain, because I’m trying to find the thread that ties the logic of reality together with the illogic of religion and the social repression of our fears. I’m beginning to think that our inability to grant ease or exhibit understanding to those around us, our general uncomfortability with recognizing fear or pain in the eyes of our neighbors, is a source of serious social ailment in our foundering world. We crawl out of our lonely little cubicles every morning at precisely 8:15 am and hurry across highways in our tiny metallic boxes so that we can stuff ourselves into different cubicles by 9:00 am, all the while working diligently to affect a pretense of strength and impassivity in everything we do. We are peculiarly embarrassed at the sight of someone crying, usually widening our path to avoid them, or pretending that we completely fail to see them. Why? It’s a crazy world, I know, but even in a crazy world this utterly fails to make sense to me. What great and terrible tragedy would result from lending a shoulder or a comforting word”¦something horrible like a brotherhood of man?
What in the hell would the world be like if one morning we all walked out of our fucking lonely overpriced boxes and actually gave pause to notice each other instead of idly shambling by in our invisible cloaks of emotional isolation? What would that moment be like? Ah, but I’d love to see it. I’d love to see this carefully cultured social selfishness melt away from the faces and minds of my people before I visit them on their deathbeds. I don’t want a brand new Hummer with five TV’s in it to distract me from reality. I don’t want bigger, faster, longer, or leaner. I don’t want to be a model. I don’t want to be rich. I’ve just got this one crazy fucking wish that one day I’m going to be able to walk up a street where people look me in the eyes instead of burying their gazes in the sidewalk cracks. I want to see a world where people aren’t ashamed to feel toward one another.
For now, I gaze squarely into the void, and the void gazes back filling me with the kind of terrible dark intensity reserved for the mad or the divinely inspired, and tonight I know enough to realize there’s little difference.