Friday, January 07, 2005

On "why bad things happen to good people"

Coming back to the subject of God's goodness, tragedy and unpleasantness, etc., I'd like to offer some thoughts from my own experience.

I cannot claim to have had anything so tragic happen to me as what has recently happened to many millions living in souteast Asia as I write this. However, I have had a fleeting taste of my own mortality this past year (enduring the "joys" of being diagnosed and treated for testicular cancer), besides also losing my mother-in-law to an untimely death while I was undergoing treatment for my illness.

Besides the other stresses and hardships I ordinarily go through (and which most of us do at one time or another), I think I can safely say, without being filled with a conceited false confidence, that how we fare with such things is entirely based on our outlook. On the whole I've faired well, emotionally/mentally, precisely because of my outlook on life.

While religiously speaking I am quite uncertain, and while my normal habits/vices would hardly fit the mould of say, a Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus, my basic outlook is essentially Stoic, particularly as far as the "inevitability" and acceptance of things is concerned (even if I cannot account for their "meaning" or "purpose", as much as I'd like to.)

On the surface there are many hard things we will all be faced with...and should they visit us, indulging in self pity will do no good whatsoever. I can honestly say that through my whole bout with my recent illness, I never once asked "why me" - I'd always said to myself prior to this sickness that those who ask such a question are infuriating...I guess I was not full of hot air. Really, why not us? We rarely ask this when fortune heaps a bounty upon us, do we?

When shit happens, there is nothing you can do but either deal, or lay down and die (literally, or spiritually, or both.) Suffering in various forms is inevitable, discomfort is inevitable, and most importantly of all, death is inevitable. I cannot promise you anything friend, but this - you will die, and in the grand scheme of things (whether relative to the entire length of the age providence will grant to mankind, or even more so relative to the age of this world and universe - never mind in the sight of eternity!) the span of your years will not even constitute a drop in the bucket. Rationally, reasonably, we're not given any other choice but to accept all of this - and it is better for us, if this acceptance is heartfelt, as it provides genuine serenity.

Honestly, I don't have the nerve to complain about my recent illness. Ok, so I got one of my stones cut off. Yes, a little humiliating (though I certainly could use more humility)...but having had to go for radiation therapy at the local cancer treatment centre, I had a chance to see people younger and far sicker than myself on a daily basis. I would be ashamed with myself if I did more than shed a few tears of brief anxiety, having seen so many young, beautiful people so incredibly ill.

Now, my grandmother is in her last stretch... she's lived a full, "long" life but her health is declining fast. It will make me sad to be separated from her, but this is how life is. We can only make the choice to do the best we can in light of it.

While I'm not sure I look at feeling and emotion so contemptuously (I can't take apatheia that far), I found much value in Marcus Aurelius' masterpiece, The Meditations. I think some parts of it would also be of value for those agonizing over existential questions or endemic agnosticism.

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