“S cratch his skin and you come upon bereavement, uncertainty, fear, and pain” (Abraham Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, p. 69).
I’ve become convinced that somewhere in the inner life of almost everyone is a wound that has never healed. We are all wounded in one way or another, and lurking in all of us, as the Catholic novelist, Alice McDermott, put it, “there is the hunger to be comforted: (The Ninth Hour, p. 189).
I’ve also reached the conclusion that everyone is afraid of something. We all have secret fears to face. To be human is to be afraid. We are all scared and lonesome. There is the essential loneliness of everyone.
I’ve come to believe that possibly the greatest struggle for most people is learning to deal with disappointment. There is no end to a disappointment, it crops up again and again. People cannot simply shrug it off. We moan for lost opportunities. All people, at some point, are grieving and look backward with regrets.
There’s more. We are inevitably both victim and victimizer. We all betray other’s love, in some way. No one is totally reliable. There is so much betrayal. The world is overcrowded with unhappy love. Our own individual lives have brought a share of evil into the world. As Jesus put it, “Only God is good” (Mk.10:18).
No doubt, I’ll be regarded as giving a picture of a world that is filled with unhappy people, the wounded, aggrieved, and disappointed, burdened with regrets, memories of past injuries, the weight of all the unfairness of their lives. What I’m trying to say is that from listening with a good ear to people, one can conclude that when you get to know a man or woman carefully you can always begin to feel pity. We need to be kind, for everyone is carrying a heavy burden.
Of course, the world does not only consist of the wounded, aggrieved, and disappointed. In the midst of it, existence is charged with goodness. In the midst of it all there is kindness, indeed heroism, sacrifices. So much charity and decency radiate. One can get a sense of the positive and loving in humankind.
And there are so many luminous things in life: springtime, mimosa trees, blackbirds, Mozart, love, wine, dancing, the smile of a friend. There are many moments of being surprised by joy.
One can be gripped by the joy of being alive, “abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7).
There is the grandeur of human existence. We are to enjoy life’s goodness. Life contains moments of exhilaration.
Still, a fundamental, unalterable truth of life is that we will certainly encounter a lot of sadness as life goes on. Everyone has a sad tale to tell. There is the incurable sadness of human existence. Therese of Lisieux spoke of “our sad earth.” There is no doubt that life will show us all the face of loss.
The main thing I want to say is that I think that each of us is put here to help dilute to some degree the misery in the world. This is what Jesus did throughout his public ministry: “Jesus went throughout Galilee and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Mt.4:23).
To some extent we all live life under the sign of the cross (Edith Stein). In the end we fade, wear out, disappear. While there is still time, we strive to be willing to be, as our faith calls us to be, stirred with a deep sense of compassion for people who just want a bit of happiness in a grim world. We strive to show some love, affection, give some recognition, appreciation, understanding, make their world somewhat of a less lonely place. Above all, friendship is listening; listening is the exercise of love. “If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself (Saint Peter Chrysologus).