The Mc’no-suffering menu
Of course, there’s plenty of things that happen every day that make you realize life’s a bitch, but a memorable occasion for me was ten years ago. On 9/11, out of all the terrible things that happened, one of the worse was those office workers throwing themselves out of the window of the World Trade Centre. It simply defied the imagination: these people had gone into work like any other day and expected to leave work like any other day; but instead the day finished with them jumping outta the window of one of the tallest buildings in the world. Innocent bystanders in a conflict with some Arab guy halfway round the world.
If there was ever a sight to make you question suffering and the cruelty of life, that was it.
Since that disturbing day, I’ve become a parent, and discovered that one of the worst things about being one, is when you think of something bad happening to your children. When you think of your children suffering it makes you want to scratch your face until it bleeds. It has the capacity to decimate you and make you wonder why the fuck we were ever made to live in the first place.
Suffering and death. I’ve been thinking about it on one level my whole adult life; searching, and desperately trying to understand one of its fundamental questions: how life can be such a bitch?
I haven’t really answered this question… because there can never be any words, any academic ideas, that can conquer Auschwitz or a crippling disease, but the best I can do goes something like this: that, basically, the possibility of suffering and the certainty of death are the price you pay for life.
Although those people who jumped out of the window had an absolutely soul-destroying end to their lives – an end more disturbing than we can possibly imagine – that was simply five minutes out of many years. Perhaps we should focus instead on all the joy they had, the emotions, journeys, celebrations; even the tedious moments which have a certain charm as well. And then you realize that absolutely none of those moments are possible without life, and as life is impossible without the possibility of suffering and certainty of death, to decry suffering and death is to deny life.
You see, it’s all part of the package; life isn’t like deciding what you want while you queue up in Macdonalds. “Good day, sir, can I take your life order…” “Yeah, I think I’ll have the Mc-no-suffering-menu please… with an extra life on the side.” There’s only one fucking menu in the Macdonalds of life, my friends. If you wanna live: you better be prepared to pencil in a list of gruesome possibilities… everything from cancer to torture.
Or look at it this way… imagine that not existing is to lie dormant for eternity in a dark room with no stimulation, and then a representative from The life company knocks on the door, comes in, and offers you life. Senses, events, family… life. BUT with the caveat that it will end at some point and you might suffer. You would almost certainly accept the deal. You’d think… “Fuck, if I’m gonna get sixty years of life and all I have to pay is six months of cancer and then it ends… I’ll definitely do that… it sure as hell beats not exisiting.” Therefore, if you’re complaining about suffering and death, I ask… what would you prefer… to not live?
Most people’s answer is that they would prefer the Mc-no-suffering menu, but as that’s entirely imposible it’s completely pointless. But no doubt, we will still continue wanting that menu even though we know it doesn’t exist… because that’s our nature. Just as… we wouldn’t stoically accept our suffering… if we lived in a repressive country and were being tortured; it’s highly unlikely it’d be any consolation to you that you had some great holidays in the Algarve in the eighties and various other good moments through the years.
But, if you are suffering at the moment or you are facing imminent death… it probably would help you to look at the bigger picture and the better moments in your life. Even if you just got to experience the magic of childhood that’s a mini-series in itself, if you then got to experience adolescence it’s even more of a bargain; if you follow this logic and got to experience your Twenties, Thirties, having children etc, you got more and more.
But again, I understand that as humans such things would be impossible to consider in a moment of suffering. Suffering is fucking awful… that’s why it’s suffering, and if all you had to do was say to yourself a few lines you heard on Street Philosophy, then it wouldn’t be suffering. And that to me says a lot about the strengths and the weaknesses of personal philosophies. As humans we are inextricably imprisoned to the moment… whatever ideas we have or we think we have can be completely overpowered by the moment and by circumstances. It’s like in the movies when the prisoner of war is about to get shot, and he’s completely calm and dignified. That’s the sort of behavior most people aspire too and their philosophy also, but the fact is that as the Taliban commander went to shoot you in the head you would almost certainly shit your pants and beg for your life.
So what can we do about suffering and moments of trauma that cause us to lose ourselves in the pain of the episode?
Well, the answer is – to do our best… to try and remember some of these things: your principles, that you have had many good moments in your life; but probably the best thing you can do is to use this knowledge to improve your life now. According to my granddad, the samurai used to wake up and say… “it seems like a good day to die…” I’m not suggesting you do that, but somewhere in your mind you should be aware that any day could be your last. See each day as a new adventure, and live life to the maximum.
There’s plenty of things: ‘plenty’ means ‘a lot.’
Defied: went against established beliefs or rules. Desafiar, desacatar.
Innocent Bystanders: innocent people who are in the area of a disaster.
To scratch your face until it bleeds: to tear your face apart with your nails until blood comes out. Arañar.
Decimate you: destroy you.
Conquer: to defeat. Vencer, conquistar.
Crippling: debilitating. A ‘crippling’ disease is one that totally destroys you.
Charm: attraction. Encanto.
Soul-destroying: really awful, something that deastroys your soul (tu alma).
Decry: to reject or criticise.
Dormant: sleeping (an idea, volcano or problem.)
Inextricably: intrinsically. Cannot be separated from.
Shit your pants and beg for your life: it is commonly believed that extreme fear makes a person shit themselves. ‘Beg’ means suplicar.