In James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, he wrote: “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
This is a startling diagnosis of how racism betrays a person’s own existential insecurity.
Extending beyond the issue of racism, there is this fascinating insight that another’s suffering can actually intimidate us because, in some ultimate sense, we know that it could just as well be us.
Brett Wilson was just 22 years old in the summer of 2019 when his father Rick was diagnosed with ALS.
ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and is a fatal nervous system disease.
In Canada, Rick was unable to secure a definitive diagnosis and so he travelled to the U.S.
“The verdict that he ‘might have ALS’ was not good enough for us,” Brett explained. “We needed clarity about what is essentially a death sentence of a disease since ALS involves a usual prognosis of a 2-5 year lifespan after the onset of symptoms.”
While awaiting confirmation of the disease, Brett refused to believe that his father had the terminal illness.
“I refused to believe it or talk about it,” he told me. “I kind of shunned my extended family who wanted to talk about it and, of course, for a while, it’s all they would talk about.”
Once Rick received the formal diagnosis, Brett remembers that his own life became “a cloud of stress.”
His grades took a hit in his fourth year of university and he marvels at how something about which he had previously known next to nothing became a consuming and omnipresent reality.
In 1993, John Paul II inaugurated the World Day of the Sick to be celebrated each year on February 11th. He wanted the annual day to serve as “a special occasion for growth, with an attitude of listening, reflection, and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness” and he specifically addressed all those who are sick, calling them “the main actors of this World Day.”
There is a miscellaneous text by Janusz Korczak (the Polish Jew who perished in Treblinka along with 200 children and staff of the orphanage he directed) that is titled, “How I Will Live after the War.”
In it, he notices how “about fifteen of them are keeping journals.” Most of the journals document life day-to-day and, occasionally, there are reminiscences about the past. However, “only once did someone write about what he was going to do after the war.”