For the Irish, life is suffering and suffering is life.
In times like these, I am pleased to be blessed with Irish blood that carries antibodies to suffering. Those of you who know me personally—beyond the words I post here—know that 2020 has been an emotional challenge for me (to say the least). The trending Twitter hashtag, #IHATE2020 barely begins to address my sentiment. “Make it stop!” has been my go-to plea as night-terrors penetrate the vulnerability of darkness. Yet, I know I have it so much better than others who are enduring not just emotional torment, but also suffer physical and financial peril. Alas, as the Irish proverb goes, “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright—it’s not the end.” Sadly, I expect I and we are some distance from the end. But, there is a way out.
This period of crisis in American history seems to throw us one hand grenade after another. 9/11, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession were plenty. Unfortunately, we largely met these challenges with deceit and greed, which is probably why we were granted an extra dose of pain. The current period of Great Suffering that followed, escorted and twisted and amplified by Donald Trump, should provide the requisite shock to force us to reckon with the gradual but certain degradation of American values that took nearly four decades to roost. In 2020, roost turned to ravage.
All of the world’s great religions hold that we should treat each other as we wish to be treated ourselves—the so-called Golden Rule. However, there is another common tenet of world religions that is equally relevant today: we must fall in order to rise. As the Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, argued in Falling Upward, “falling, losing, failing, transgression, and sin” are prerequisites to rebirth—to ascension from despair. In Christian theology, there can be no resurrection until after crucifixion. He notes that Buddhism observes this phenomenon perhaps more clearly than Christianity when he wrote, “suffering does not solve any problem mechanically as much as it reveals the constant problem that we are to ourselves, and opens up new spaces within us for learning and loving.” So, may we please let the learning and loving begin? Please?!
There are many—too many—days I feel helpless to arrest the descent of America into a swirling cauldron of darkness. I know many of you feel the same. However, the marathon of malicious narcissism we have endured over the last four years can be over soon, if we do the work of redemption. The citizens of what once was the greatest country in the world must rise up by rejecting the sinister policies of our president who seeks to destroy our spirit and unity in favor of stroking his fragile ego and lining his family’s pockets with wealth and power. Enough is enough.
The way out is this: we must share in each other’s suffering if we have any hope of uniting and expelling the evil that is Donald Trump. We must accept—even embrace—the suffering of victims of violence, of Covid-19, of economic and social injustice. Their suffering must become ours if we are to rise. Burdens must be shared to be overcome. I have become convinced this is the only way forward to unite our country and achieve redemption and renewal. We must not just stand up for ourselves, we must stand together by injecting compassion and responsibility back into individualism. Only then will the powers aligned against us—from within our country—be vanquished.
Oh, and vote, damn it, VOTE!