The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Suffer to Live

At the conclusion of When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, Harold Kushner says that Ecclesiastes learned three key lessons to giving life meaning:

1. Belong to people – share your intimate life with others.
2. Accept pain as part of your life.
3. Know that you have made a difference, know that your life mattered.

I take exception to No. 2, however, even though I know that Kushner speaks the truth:

Our son Aaron was born the week that President John Kennedy was shot, and I remember a tearful Daniel Patrick Moynihan saying after the assassination, “When you’re Irish, one of the first things you learn is that sooner or later this world will break your heart.” It was one of the first things I learned from Jewish history as well, and I would learn it more personally over the course of our son’s brief life.

Why do hundreds of young people who seem to have so much to live for take their own lives every year? Why are there “epidemics” of teenage suicides, often in happy families, in affluent communities, incidents not necessarily born out of despair or hopelessness but seemingly random tragedies which leave families shattered and high schools and entire communities feeling haunted?

For that matter, why are middle-aged and older people driven to take their own lives, often when they find themselves faced with the prospect of serious illness or scandal? I suspect that the answer has to do with our society’s attitude toward pain. From the outset, we have been told that for every pain, there will be a pill we could take to make the hurting stop. In essence, we have been promised a pain-free life.

Yet pain is part of being alive, and we need to learn that. Pain does not last forever, nor is it necessarily unbearable, and we need to be taught that. Most of all, we have to learn to trust our own capacities to endure pain. We can endure much more than we think we can; all human experience testifies to that. All we need to do is learn not to be afraid of pain.

Gee, that’s easy for Kushner to say... I’ve lived my entire life afraid of pain. I’ve lived my entire life trying to avoid pain. Pain is NOT an option!

And when I hurt, I become very angry, raging against the universe like The Incredible Hulk. This, for better or worse, is the core of my being, the heart of my existence, and the essence of my personality. Prick me, do I not bleed? Hurt me, do I not rage? In suffering, I am the Destroyer of Worlds.

I cannot afford the luxury of pain...


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