Tag Archives: History

No answer to suffering

I thought I’d ask the age old question: Why do we suffer?

This question came to me tonight after talking with a friend who’s recently lost his mother to cancer, who’s father is a survivor of cancer, and whose uncle is slowly dying from cancer as well.  They were all healthy, good people.

My friend is struggling for meaning in his life, for hope, for the energy to cope with the pain that’s been unceasing the past few years.  He simply cannot comprehend why this tragedy has struck his family, and it’s lead to his declaration of atheism and his overall indifference toward the joys of life.

My friend is a good man, in no way deserving of this pain, of these hopeless circumstances.

People have struggled with the problem of suffering for thousands of years.  Hindus credit it to bad past lives, to Christians it’s the ultimate mystery.  If God is so great, why is there so much pain? So much doubt? So much terribleness?

I, for one, have no idea, and will never claim to have the answer. It’s plaguing me this evening though, and I wish I had something better to say to comfort my friend.

I know that one should treasure life and live each day to the fullest, yada yada yada, but that’s not good enough. Not when so many people feel their mortality approaching faster with every breath.

Why is there so much pain? Why are entire families wiped out by this silent, painful killer?

How can one remain hopeful when so much despair looms in every facet of their life? How can one confront and challenge such despair?

All I know to do is, hold on. Hold on and surround yourself with goodness. And breath.

We don’t know why life can be so egregious, but I do know that if we still have breath, we should savor it, take it in deeply, and feel it.

Hold on.

A line from a script I read in theatre camp went something like this,

“Life is like a swing. It goes up, down, back, forth. We can just hold on and wait for life to swing back up, that there will always be highs and lows and they are in constant flux.  Hold on to the swing.  Hold on. ”  

 

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A Thought on Columbus Day

Columbus Day is the twelfth of this month, and I thought the day would be a good occasion for some contemplation and awareness.

I went and saw The Canary Effect on campus this evening, a film about how Native Americans were effectively exterminated from the United States during and following colonialism, and how Native Americans continue a relentless struggle in a plethora of socioeconomic and political spheres.

The film was infuriating and impassioning.

I looked down at my shoes, I was wearing moccasins.  I’m sure these weren’t made by Indians at Pine Ridge, and I’m even more sure that Natives don’t benefit from my wearing the style of shoe they created.  I felt slightly sick to my stomach.  Was I aiding the subjugation of American Indians by wearing these shoes? Was I another ignorant American, exploiting these people for selfish reasons?

I took a deep breath.

I left feeling major white-girl guilt and anger, but at the same time, empowered and determined to make the world a better place.

After the film, I asked how I, a 23 year old middle-class college student, could ever create positive change for Native American populations without being condescending or ineffectual.  Another girl gave a good answer.

She suggested that we become aware. That as individuals we do research and get the facts.  That we seek to understand Native cultures and truly see the reasons for why so many of them are desperately troubled.

She also noted that we must become critical consumers.  We must question what we’ve been taught in our public school systems and be critical of the bias we encounter in our textbooks.  We can also stand up for the Native community, so that when someone says, “Oh, why give them[Native groups] any funding or aid? They have casinos so now they’re rich”.  We can then politely inform them that in fact, 90% of American Indians are in NO WAY affected by the gaming initiatives.

We can confront biases and ignorance in the media.  We can kindly remind each other the truth of what happened to the Native population, that by 1890, 98% of American Indians had been killed, and after that thousands of Native women were forcibly sterilized, and thousands of Native Children were ripped from their families and put into Christian boarding schools that sought to completely deconstruct their Native identity.

Today, natives are seven times more likely to commit suicide than the majority white population. Substance abuse is twice as prevalent on the reservation as it is for white communities.  American Indians face constant discrimination in the search for employment and sexual violence against Native women is at a terrible high.

So perhaps we should contemplate these facts and revaluate our prejudices and assumptions.  Perhaps we should be more conscientious of our words and thoughts.  Perhaps we should continue our personal education and re-examine the history of the United States.

I for one, rather than feeling guilty for wearing moccasins, will use them as a personal reminder of what happened to Native Americans. I will remember what has happened to their families, culture, and heritage, and remember the struggles communities face today.  I’ll challenge myself to be aware, and to stay educated about the past, the present, and on matters of the future.

Instead of feeling guilty, become informed.

(Facts derived from The Canary Effect, directed by Robin Davey and Yellow Thunder Woman)

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