“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved” – Helen Keller
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars” – Khalil Gibran
“The wound is the place where the light enters you” – Rumi
I am sitting on this worn out seat, on the balcony overlooking the grasses, and staring at the blue cloudless skies. The flowers are blossoming in the sun and smelt real nice. The women were inside wailing and throwing themselves on the ground, while the child’s father sobbed quietly beside me. I looked up to heaven, hoping God would hear the cries of the dead child’s mother. But it was all a dream; there is no coming back from the dead.
Pardon me…all ye good people. I know the title of this post sounds or looks like an article straight from a Jehovah Witness bulletin. So most of you might think I’ve joined them. Naa, Naa, Naa…I am never gonna join them. I can’t be walking around under the sun every weekend just to end up in a house dropping off some magazines after saying a few words about how the devil came to earth in 1914, how I am gonna live together with lions and other scary animals sometime in the future…bla bla bla bla bla. So there you have it; I am not writing an article about the witnesses. This is just me trying to decipher a few mind-boggling issues that bother me (and keep bothering me).
While growing up, we’d go from Sunday school to some hospitals to evangelize. I must confess, it was a good feeling. I always felt I was closer to God after embarking on such duties, only for me to come back to the house later in the day and maybe steal a piece of meat from the stew pot. Tragic! Deception! I’d lay at the edge of my bed begging God for forgiveness and crying. Repentance! Deception!
OK…back to the point. While at the hospital, I’d wonder why the little kid rolling over on the bed is screaming in agony. Or why the elderly man lying lifeless has a tube that passed through his nostrils. I would just wonder why people suffered. Our tutors would tell us it was the devil’s fault or say something else to make us to be less inquisitive and shut the phuck up. I grew up with this notion that the devil caused sufferings.
Over the years, I added other reasons and assertions to my already existing notion. But all these actually made me more confused. I studied books and learnt new theories. But none could provide lasting and final answers to those pertinent questions. No one could answer why the Jews had to suffer so much under the Nazis. Or why an innocent kid would just come into the world with some birth defects. Or why seemingly good and hardworking men don’t seem to reap the benefits of the good they did.
My first posting as a house officer was in Paediatric Oncology Unit. When I joined the unit, it was obvious I had to end all forms of truancy and the lackadaisical attitude I had towards the profession for me to perform my duties effectively and efficiently. I had to put my other side hustles on the side and put the patients first. I swear it wasn’t easy for me to cope. My first patient was a little kid diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia – she was three.
Coming to work every morning, I always had this emotionally overwhelming question hovering over my big head unseen: what did this kid do wrong to be struck with this ailment? I would arrive to behold the kid beaming with joy once she sighted me. She would leave whatever she was doing to jump up and down like a little kid that she was. I would head straight to her bed and exchange pleasantries with the mother, trying to make them happy with my endless jokes and eventually drop a chocolate bar for the little kid. I would also drop more chocolate bars for the other patients and watch as the ghost of smiles played around their lips, amidst the pains they felt. And after I was done, I’d promise to come back at my spare time to see how they were doing. But I never kept my promise because after the day’s work, I always ended up at Papa’s shop to have some bottles of cold beer with men of like minds and virtues.
The next day would be the same song and dance. Sometimes, she’d wriggle on her bed, screaming in agony about the bone pains, dying a thousand times in her grief, clutching her bible and calling on God to save her, and hoping the pains would end soon. But her prayers were never answered.
In all honesty, that period was a tough one for me. I questioned my faith and religion more often than I did before. Not that I’ve not seen such cases in my undergrad days. But this was the first time I had a close contact with such people; sharing in their joys and sorrows. Another reason was that I spent more time hustling back in the days and rarely went to the wards.
A couple of months ago, Pope Francis visited the Philippines. When he stopped at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, he encountered a weeping 12 year old Giyzelle Palomar, a one-time homeless child taken in by a church charity. She made an emotional plea to the Pope ahead of a mass. She talked about abandoned children and the ones forced into drugs and prostitution and ended her plea by asking an overpowering question: Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything. And afterwards, she broke down and cried as the Pope hugged her. The Pope gave an honest reply: She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. Other men of God would have tried to give hackneyed replies to the question. Deception!
In all honesty, no one can give any reason why God allows sufferings. There are different views on why people suffer. In the good book, Jesus admitted it wasn’t the fault of people that they suffered but so that the glory of God would be established. Maybe I didn’t quote it right but it is something like that. But that’s what the good book says. Other people believe in the law of karma (or Cause and Effect) which operates independent of any deity or any process of divine judgement. But does the law of karma actually function in every case? I don’t think so; there are a thousand evil men that enjoy better lives and happiness than other good men. Some might argue that happiness is subjective, which wouldn’t be far from the truth.
The reason why sufferings occur would forever remain a mystery. The world is ugly; sufferings are not distributed according to how much sins we’ve committed. Shit just happens and we live with the outcome of the bullshits; that just the way of the world. We could choose to engross ourselves with some religious explanations but it doesn’t solve the problem. People would keep suffering even if they are the most pious of all men. Suffering is part of living; we should therefore desist from questioning the Almighty when such happens. We have to live everyday knowing that bliss and happiness is not guaranteed. And when such sufferings come, we should accept them like noble men.
Say your goodbyes in colors, say your goodbyes in black and white, we are all like postcards from heaven, we’d go when our purpose is done in this ugly world…
RIP to the Dead!