Why we cannot bear to look upon suffering

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.

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Moving into grief instead of moving on from it

This past weekend (from Saturday night to Sunday night) was Tisha B’Av, the Jewish date for communal mourning of the destruction of the temples in the Jerusalem as well as all other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through history.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem and perhaps that will provide inspiration for another post.

Today, however, I wanted to share something I heard on Yocheved Davidowitz A Deeper Conversation podcast episode for Tisha B’Av.

In it, she discusses the solidarity Jews experience in mourning loss collectively and also the profound rituals Jews have for funerals and the grieving process.

Yocheved then discusses how, in her work as a therapist, she would notice the sense of dread people have about feeling sadness and mourning.

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Can we learn to die?

I do not suppose that thinking and writing about death every day will necessarily make it any easier to die one day or will make me any better at it.

I do know, however, that I will not always be in a position of wanting to think and write about these topics and so now is the time for it.

In Josef Pieper’s Death and Immortality, I just came across this excellent paragraph:

As a general rule, so-called “thinking about death” is probably a poor way of learning to die. Georges Bernanos in one of his last imaginative works, the Dialogues des Carmélites, has the dying prioress say: “I have meditated on death every hour of my life, but that does not help me at all now.” And when the philosopher Peter Wust learned for certain that he would never leave his sickbed, he asked in a diary note, evidently with profound surprise, why all philosophy failed him now.

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Will loss enhance appreciation?

I recently asked a young woman about what ways she has found to profit from the situation of living during a pandemic.

Her immediate answer was that she came to truly value attending church because this is something that had been taken away during to the periods of lockdown. Prior to the pandemic, she would often skip church because of her erratic work hours, but once she had experienced the loss of this possibility that was not on her own terms, she resolved to make church attendance, when possible again, a non-negotiable commitment in her life.

This is a testament that we value that which costs us.

If something costs us nothing, it is natural to expect that we will not value it highly.

And so I am also reminded of the ardour with which persecuted Christians attend church.

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Thumbs Up for Life with Down Syndrome

Today is World Down Syndrome Day, and so this evening my friends and I were reflecting on the value of those with Down Syndrome in our lives.

My favourite story my friend shared was about a man named Peter for whom she cared for one year while working as a live-in assistant at a L’Arche community in Montreal.

Peter was in his 30s and his kidneys did not work well. He was on dialysis and, because he could not urinate properly, he also had a catheter that, in his case, was surgically changed every six months.

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