Baldwin: “People who cannot suffer can never grow up.”

Recently a friend of mine introduced me to James Baldwin (1924-1987), an American author who wrote books, essays, and memoirs on the experience of Blacks in America.

I just finished reading Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which contains two essays exploring race relations in the U.S. in the early 1960s. “Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality,” he says.

Continuing to reflect here on what case there is for suffering being redemptive without sliding into any justification of (or indifference to) real injustices, Baldwin offers a credible voice.

Here is an excerpt on how suffering can be a school in maturity:

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Fighting for the Right to Suffer

The other day I was listening to a talk by author Rod Dreher who, in discussing the contempt for suffering in our contemporary culture, brought up this excerpt from chapter 17 of Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World:

“But I like the inconveniences.”

“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to- morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.

“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.

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The Shelter of Wounds

Recently a friend of mine said something to me that was an epiphany. She reflected, “I don’t know anything about suffering being redemptive without others’ suffering being open to me.”

This immediately struck a chord and resonated within me profoundly.

Sometimes we need a friend to speak the truths we’ve known all along with the credibility of living witness.

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI explains the way in which suffering that is shared becomes transformed:

Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. 

Something else that comes to mind in thinking about this is the line from the Anima Christi prayer which says: “Within your wounds hide me.”

What is it to be hidden within another’s wounds?

How can a loved one’s wounds actually be a shelter for us?

Have we considered the ways in which a wound creates the actual space for greater openness and depth?

Without attempting to justify any evil, hurt, or injustice, how can revealing our woundedness to others create the hospitality in us for others in their woundedness such that “suffering is penetrated by the light of love”?