I’ve been a little distracted this weekend. Maybe you have too.
All the discussion in the world about Ivan’s “unrequited suffering” won’t provide any answers. Fate? Free will? Even if you can make an argument, you might not take a whole lot of satisfaction in it right now. I’m not a facebook status updater, but I posted Dostoevsky’s “active love” quote from p. 56ish. The Times columnist Ross Douthat dedicated almost half of his column in today’s Sunday Review to Ivan’s argument about the suffering of children, and the way Dostoevsky doesn’t have any of his characters offer a counter-argument.
And maybe the discovery, well, my discovery, is found in the way that Douthat follows that last observation. When we don’t have answers, we shouldn’t offer answers. What we have, what tends to help us deal with atrocities, is narrative. We have stories about the people we miss. We have stories about the ways people deal with their losses. We have inspirational stories that (we should hope) help us to become better than we might naturally be. We have horrific stories which should deepen our capacities for feeling, for understanding, for caring about other people.
Of course, after we finish with story, we’re left with the emptiness of loss. We have to struggle with feeling badly about our own problems when we see the depth of other people’s problems. We get to twist ourselves into knots, however loose or tight, about having a right to feel anything about what doesn’t affect us directly. Equally difficult is the struggle when we lapse, at least in the immediate aftermath of such a horrific event, into careless laughter or happiness.
I suppose that what we need is the ability to understand the limitations of any one means of explanation about why things happen as they do. Literature has its place; religion; philosophy; science; family; friends.
At some point, I stopped trying to make people feel better when they are sad. My feeling was that cheering someone up was more about my discomfort with another’s sadness than with the fact that someone was sad. We’re entitled to the entire range of emotions, not just the good ones, and sometimes, when you’re angry or you’re sad, you just want to feel your anger or your sadness. So my position, over the last couple of decades or so, is thereness is better than cheer.
So come Monday, we can discuss themes of suffering, redemption, love, death, fate, free will, and those are useful discussions insofar as they create contexts, or serve as impetus to thought, about the experiences we know we’re going to go through, as well as the experiences we can’t plan for. I’m going to check with Mr. Bloss about this, but the only specific activity I can think of for any of our classes this week is to walk for 27 minutes at 9:30 on Friday morning.
I guess we’ll talk about that tomorrow or Tuesday.