So much has been said and written this week about the deaths of Robin Williams and Michael Brown. I hesitate to write more. Yet I have seen very little written that makes any connection between these two heartbreaking events. I think there is a connection. Both deaths have brought to light pain that often remains silent.
The suicide of Robin Williams brought to light the fact that even among the most successful there can be pain. Looking at the world we often envy the rich, the famous, the successful. We imagine that their lives might be cushioned from some of the pain and sorrow of the world. To be sure they need not worry about where their next meal is coming from or about where they are going to sleep away from the elements. Materially they are doing well. When compared with the suffering endured by the hungry, the displaced, the refugees in war-torn countries, the suffering of the well-off may seem minimal. It would do us well not to try and compare human suffering in ways that minimize the very real pain of persons regardless of their social, economic or cultural status. Robin Williams suffered. He was in pain and the pain overtook him, overcame him. In pain, he ended his life.
The psychoanalyst Michael Eigen has said, “there is no trauma-free world, no trauma-free space in real time.” We all experience pain in our lives, in one way or another. We experience loss. We experience grief. We experience disappointment. Our task is to try and find constructive ways to deal with it. It is not always an easy task.
Obviously, not all pain gets dealt with constructively. We would not call suicide a constructive response to the pain in life, though making judgments about a suicide after the fact is pointless, and can even be rather heartless. After a suicide, we need to find constructive responses to the pain of those grieving. We need to mourn and celebrate the life that has been ended.
In Ferguson, Missouri there seems to be some non-constructive response to pain. Protests can be a constructive response to social pain. Looting is not. But make no mistake about it, the death of 18 year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American, shot by a white police officer, has revealed deep pain in our society. There is pain and anger associated with injustice. This pain and anger is deeply rooted in our history. There are details to this case that continue to come to light, and we will learn more in the days ahead. What we know now is that an unarmed 18 year-old is dead, shot by a police officer in the line of duty. It has brought out of silence deep pain rooted in the history of race relations in our country.
Thinking about this pain that we don’t always see, but that has come to light in recent days, I think about some of these wise words.
All tremble at violence; all fear death. Seeing others as being like yourself, you should neither harm nor kill. All tremble at violence; life is held dear by all. Seeing others as being like yourself, you should neither harm nor kill. (Buddha, The Dhammapada, 129-130)
Sometimes we feel that we are barely pulling ourselves forward through a tight tunnel on badly scraped-up elbows. But we do come out the other side, exhausted and changed. It would be great if we could shop, sleep, or date our way out of this. Sometimes we think we can, but it feels that way only for a while. To heal, it seems we have to stand in the middle of the horror, at the foot of the cross, and wait out another’s suffering where that person can see us. To be honest, that sucks. (Anne Lamott, Stitches, 10)
Seeing that all experience pain, we need to muster the courage to stand with the hurting. It is not always easy. Sometimes it just plain sucks. We should seek to do no harm. We should develop gentle souls. We should seek to be healers.
With Faith and With Feathers,