I’ve been throwing a lot of information at you over the last several days. A lot of it is disturbing, upsetting, and bleak. I get that. Trust me, I do.
I was telling my husband this morning, that the process of writing this stuff has been tough. It was like walking into a room in a closed off section of the house and seeing all the furniture draped in white sheets, the chandelier cold, the smell of dust and stale air around me and being afraid of the darkness within.
It’s a haunted house where the spirits wait in silence. That’s the funny thing about ghost stories, isn’t it? Along with the spooky aspect of it all, there’s an undercurrent of sadness of a life departed. A death.
I think during those years I died a thousand little deaths. A little bit of me was torn away from the whole and that sadness I carry with me for what ‘could have been’ or ‘what should have been’. And I carried that sadness with me. It touched all aspects of my life.
It was this boogeyman waiting in the corner for a moment when I wasn’t on guard and watchful to spring out and have its way. It was fear. Isolation. Mistrust. Anger. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Pain. Suffering.
I think you, the reader, can relate to that in some regard for your own life.
What is important to understand, I think, is the relativity of pain and suffering. We all go through it on some level. It’s an aspect, an important aspect, of being human. Some theology and philosophy insists that we are ‘made to suffer’. It’s our condition, it’s the price we pay to live in this world.
To some, including fundamentalism, suffering is the product of sin (which is always an accusation and never a point of self reflection for them as if their own sin doesn’t show up in that moment and makes a fool out of them.)
While I think that’s true in some regard, I think the emphasis on suffering get’s muddled in our inability to capture or describe the purpose in all of this within the limits of human language.
Maybe we suffer not to separate us but to unite us as human beings. This universal experience holds within the power to bring disparate groups of people together in a kind of understanding of humanity. Despite all the boundaries that separate us, real, imagined, or simply a byproduct of social construction, struggle is present in our daily lives.
Look at the humanities. Look at art. Consider the works of mankind since the dawn of recorded time and you’ll see that struggle embodied in everything we touch. We try, desperately, to reach out for each other. To touch, and be touched, to love, and be loved, to understand, and be understood, to see and be seen. Whether its a movie, a book, a painting, a song, sculpture, a poem, we create things that say, “Here I am. This is my experience.”
C.S. Lewis said that, “We read to know that we’re not alone.” But how true is this statement in other mediums? A concert where thousands of people sing the artist’s song back to them? An opera where the crowd is swept away in the music even if they don’t know the lyrics? A ballet? A play such as The Color Purple (Cynthia Erivo was fantastic) when the lead character sings, “…and I’m here!” Or at the movie theatre when Captain America is able to finally pick up Thor’s hammer and the crowd went nuts.
In that space, in that brokenness, lies an opportunity to reach beyond the event and touch the lives of people and say, “I’ve been there. I understand. This is how you get through this.” And it’s those expressions of art that save us over and over again.
This past Sunday, my pastor gave a sermon for Palm Sunday about The Crucifixion of Christ and his great suffering. I have struggled with faith, I have struggled with these questions that people ask after a tragedy, after a death, after the truth of something is revealed in all its horror.
“Where is God in all of this?”
Where is he? Why doesn’t he put a stop to this?
I was in the church! I said the words. I prayed the prayers. I sang the songs. I believed!
I became an author back in 2012. I’d been a writer all my life, it was my thing. It was something I was good at throughout school (it probably saved me in high school and enabled me to graduate. They were safe to assume I wasn’t some idiot they were letting out into the world).
A professor I had criticized my writing once as ‘too romantic’ and I thought, “Well, shit. Maybe I can do something with that,” and I did. I started writing novels about ghosts and romances and blah blah blah and I began to draw on my own personal life experience to create these works of fiction and it was in that space, when I started receiving these wonderful reviews from readers that, I knew there was something to this. Not simply because I spin a good yarn, but because — from drawing on personal experiences in life — I was able to touch the lives of other people.
I was able to take that nasty, jangly, jagged, mess I carried with me — that had been weighing me down — and create something that brought joy to someone else’s life because perhaps, they too, were seen for a moment. Also, in that space, I found validation, healing, hope, and encouragement that this is what I was supposed to do with my life.
I found purpose.
I thought fiction writing would be enough for me to handle and process all of which had gone on in my life in this sort of filtered way. I never thought I could handle talking about the events, what I’d witnessed, what I’d been told head one like this in a way that wasn’t overwrought with emotion and bias. I feared all I would be doing is screaming into the void like a mad man.
In that space, I think, God appears. And so, as the sermon went on, the pastor described to us that — “When we suffer, God suffers right there with us.” and for me that’s enough to begin to alleviate some of the weight of all this in knowing that I wasn’t carrying it alone all this time. So during those ten thousand little deaths, I was resurrected ten thousand little times to put my feet in front of me and go on. I realized Christ had been there, with me, the entire time suffering right along with me.
We never ‘get over’ anything that happens to us. Ever. Anyone who tells you that is full of shit.
Christ was resurrected WITH his scars not without them. Not healed from them, although they’d healed over, but present and visible for his disciples to see.
We know too much about how the brain works, psychology, the relationship between psychology and physiology, and through expressions of the humanities. Hell, Herodotus described Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D) as far back as Ancient Greece when he wrote about a soldier being assaulted by a phantom of a man who’d been killed next to him in battle.
And we know that, if trauma goes unchecked, we will deliver that trauma to someone else in some form or another, therefore perpetuating a cycle of it. You will give away, in some form or another, what ever has been given to you but you can choose how and when that happens and in what form.
However, you can get THROUGH an event(s) and pass along those stories to bring comfort and hope for those we leave behind. That, for me, is where God is in all of this.
That’s why whenever I see people being critical of artisans for speaking up and speaking out against things and the comments are a variation of “Shut up Act or Sing or…,” whatever the case may be, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of it all. The paradoxical demand for silence from people who built their entire lives around the practice of empathy.
Art doesn’t exist solely for entertainment purposes, it can change the world. Don’t believe me? Look up Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
They’re just doing what God designed them to do.