Since wisdom is the art of coping with suffering, it starts with a willingness to tackle it head-on:
a) Such is the harshness of our condition that we suffer, sometimes greatly or worse, insuperably.
b) Such is the richness of our nature that we can learn to live happily, or at least serenely, within the limits of this condition. This entails us either pursuing goals that are not only desirable or honorable, but also attainable, or resigning ourselves to the inevitable.
Admittedly, a great many suffer whose suffering is all the more problematic as their wisdom is still largely in the making. I remember my own past as a young unhappy and suicidal man who composed dark poems. My negative attitude compounded my difficult situation, and I lacked the awareness of my ability to improve both. Today, I feel deeply connected with those who live in the limbo of gloom. Even if my words only reach one of them, they will not have been written in vain.
I have recently come across some dark poetry, reminiscent of mine in my young days. The author – Melyssa G. Sprott – is a young talented woman whose youth has been poisoned by abuse and other hardships. Her suffering and her talent have inspired me to feature some of her work and respond to it. Note that my responding to it in a positive manner testifies to my being help-minded, but note also that my responses are written in a spirit of humbleness. I don’t claim to provide a remedy; I just try my best to give some useful insights.
* * *
The following excerpts are from one of Melyssa’s collection of poems, entitled “Descent into the Dark.” They reveal her aching soul with the moving simplicity of a woman crying for her overwhelming grief.
When I was six,
my father had me convinced
I wasn’t worth the air I breathed,
the food I’d cost,
or other things I’d need.
When I was six,
my father didn’t want children
or want the wife he kept,
so we were forced to suffer
for my father’s regrets.
“Remember to tell him you love him or you’ll die,”
Mother sings her twisted lullaby.
“Wish for mercy, pray for death,
await the day he ceases breath.
He’ll wake you up at three in the morning
to beat you senseless without warning.
It doesn’t matter how still you lie,”
Mother sings her twisted lullaby.
I want to bleed forever,
bleed out my sorrow.
I can’t even bear
the thought of tomorrow.
I want this nightmare to end.
I’ll close my eyes to the world.
I’ve been begging for death
since I was a little girl.
How could all this damage
come from such trusted lips?
You throw words like stones.
My heart is breaking glass.
The key you held is the knife you twist.
Nowhere to hide
in the dark of the night.
Sometimes the only comfort we find
is in our own pain….
They’ll never understand the calm
of relinquishing all control.
Suffering takes less courage
than it takes to be content.
I didn’t choose the less traveled path
of love, joy, and luck.
I chose the other path,
and now I am stuck.
I’m a prisoner of the dark in my eyes.
* * *
Let us take stock of a few harsh facts that are part and parcel of life, not only Melyssa’s or mine, but everyone’s.
a) The human potential for greatness – great learning and nobility, and great accomplishments – is matched only by the human potential for the reverse. Yes, humans can be and sometimes are monstrously poor-spirited, narrow-minded, and black-hearted, among other despicable traits. These traits may involve genetic or environmental factors that predispose to them, but ultimately they are the fault of the individuals who give free rein to them. The unfortunate thing is, these individuals are a source of suffering not only to themselves but also to those who are at their mercy. Among their victims are children, women, and elderly or disabled people. Actually, even the strongest of men can suffer as a result of falling prey to them. Yet, the others are more vulnerable – especially children who often make the dreadful mistake of blaming themselves for the abuse or neglect to which they are subjected.
b) As a rule, people are neither great nor bad in the extreme. They are relatively friendly and helpful – if you treat them fairly – and they lead decent though imperfect lives. Having said this, they have minds of their own, which may not be in keeping with yours. A man may fall in love with a woman who doesn’t care a whit about him, and vice versa. A job seeker may hope for employment at some outfit, where in his opinion he belongs, and have his application turned down by an employer who sees things in a different light. These two examples count among an infinity of possible ones that testify to the same truth: Other people’s wishes and yours often differ and you must then (out of respect) compromise or abstain from doing as you please.
c) On a positive note, there is some degree of harmony between nature’s purpose and that of humans. As harsh as our life is on earth, we can subsist or even thrive. Yet, this harmony does not alter the fact that both purposes are distinct, always in danger of being opposite. Just think about the amount of resourcefulness and adaptability we must show to indeed thrive. At best the harmony is labored and confined within narrow limits. Think also about the number of times nature’s purpose and that of humans clash, as demonstrated by all manner of nuisances, illnesses, and disasters. In short, the relationship we have with nature is like the relationship some people have with wild animals they have tamed. These animals are pleasant pets provided their needs are catered for. Still, they can turn against their owners for no apparent reason, except that they are fundamentally wild.
As I pointed out earlier, wisdom starts with a willingness to tackle the harsh reality of life head-on. It is the reverse of ignorance, and hence is exclusive of the illusory bliss that accompanies this ignorance. If happiness is possible through wisdom, it is achieved with the full knowledge and acceptance of the harsh reality in question. By acceptance I do not mean a passive resignation toward the status quo in all its harshness. I mean a brave readiness to turn our situation – possibly bad in a number of respects – to good account. And this includes bettering what we are able to better, while making do with everything else.
Easier said than done, of course. But then happiness is not about what is easy; it is about what is good and right and can only be accomplished through a great deal of meritorious effort. To make or not to make this effort is the question, which sums up human freedom. And surely nobody in their right mind would forever take the easy option that leads to unworthiness and unhappiness!