What is worse than suffering?

Sunday 3 February 2008

I was sitting outside before, hitting the ball for my dog (this is his vocation). He went to get the ball and fell over. Mocca mentioned that he had fallen over last week too. And so the gears started whirring in my brain and I began imagining, playing What If? Today's what if featured a doggy melodrama - Lester cast as the poor canine with a wasting disease. What would I do if Lester was wasting away with a wasting away disease? Would I get him put to sleep? When would I get him put to sleep?

My conclusion was that I didn't know (these are most of my conclusions these days. It is a strangely satisfying conclusion). I thought that I would have to wing it and suss the situation out intuitively as I went, see what the Lord of the Starfields had to say about it all. I thought about how the "put your animals to sleep at the first sign of any suffering whatsoever. An eyelash in your dog's eye? Put it to sleep" fraternity would react to that. They would think that I was horrible, allowing my dog to suffer that way. As if there is nothing that goes on in suffering except suffering itself. No redeeming qualities, especially for a dog.

But what do we as a culture know about suffering? I mean, it makes sense that we run from it, right? Suffering hurts = run from suffering. We medicate it whenever we can. Got the flu? Take antibiotics. Got a heartache? Get drunk/stoned/fucked/angry/whatever your personal predilection is. Getting old? Get institutionalised away from our sight. Disabled in any form? Keep it to yourself. Our culture has sanitised suffering out of the public square. It doesn't fit with the economics. We scapegoat those who are publicly suffering. It must be their fault. We just don't want to know.

But, then, as in so much of life, while the left hand is doing one thing, the right hand is doing another thing. While your flesh is writhing in the suffering, the injustice of it, the horrible God who is allowing it ... your spirit can be rejoicing if its vision is long-range enough to see that God will never allow any suffering to go by without wrapping it up, in the next age or so, with his brand of justice (not our brand. Our brand is a tad too ... harsh, shall we say? We misunderstand continually the difference between justice and vengeance). So if your spirit can hold to this, to know that suffering is not only a shithole but it is also a furnace, and that we get purified in the furnace, then there is some measure of rejoicing on that part of us which is wise beyond imagining. Which feels like cold comfort to our flesh. But hey, what other sort of comfort do you want when you're in a hot furnace ;)

So, I don't know what I would do if my dog was dying of a wasting disease. But I would hesitate to do the first thing my culture suggests. There could be reasons, after all, for my dog to stay alive, to live out his life a bit longer, that I know absolutely nothing about, rhythms that we cut short when we "one size fits all" everything, even death. How the hell would I know what the best thing would be to do? But again, I would have to be aware of the possibility when the time came, much as I would hate to think I would be so wussy, to hide behind that reasoning as a way to continue my dog's suffering because I wouldn't want to enter into my grief. But I would seriously hope not.

So I've been thinking, suffering isn't the worst thing that can happen - although it feels like it at the time (and when I say suffering I'm talking about the generalised middle-of-the-road stuff, not so much the traumatic, violent variety - although even middle-of-the-road suffering can feel traumatic). But then I was wondering, if suffering isn't the worst thing that can happen - what is? What do you think? Is there anything that you can define that would be worse than suffering? I've got a few ideas but I want to see what you guys have to say first :)

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