People Get Ready … In Celebration of Difficulty


The man who being on the “Way,” falls upon hard times in the world, will not, as a consequence turn to a friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it.

Graf Emil Durckheim

In Act 5 Scene 2 of Hamlet, Hamlet reflects on his coming death and on the death of his father, the personal tragedy that got this whole thing started. In addition to reflecting on the loss of a parent, something most of us have already experienced in one way or another, he connects his loss of his father to his own loss of … well everything and says, “the readiness is all.” The question is how do you get ready for catastrophic loss, grief or pain? If there were a way to do it; a way that could make the bearing of the pain a little less, blunt the sting of it wouldn’t you celebrate finding it.

This was the original intent of the theories of Heaven, the afterlife and Resurrection. This is the meaning behind all of the rituals and prayers around death and dying. They were designed to do two things; to make us feel the pain of the loss and then give us a way to move through it. Today it seems as if everything is geared for us to not ever feel pain, loss, sadness or even loneliness and boredom.
The rise of fundamentalism and its flourishing in its various forms is a clear indicator of this desire to be free from the uncertainly that makes us suffer. But as Bart Ehrman says in the book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question … Why We Suffer,

“There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty”

To isolate oneself from anything unpleasant seems to be a key to happiness and so when things come along that shatter us we are undone. Happiness is not achieved by default from the avoidance of misfortune but is to be sought out as in the myths and folk tales about young persons setting out to seek their fortune. Happiness and the desire for a livable life are found in tragedies of the ancient Greeks., where appears to be no assurance of success, no guarantee that happiness is at the end of the rainbow; where the characters have to cross unknown territories, face seduction, take high-stakes risks, and trust they will not come back empty-handed. Through it all they find the right balance between empathy and resilience — between connection and self-protection. Through their struggle, we learn to appreciate the pain and the desire of many a strange-looking creature, while we remain wary of anyone who claims he is the one and only path to happiness. Or like Hecuba or Hamlet we may lose our moorings completely and withdraw from life.

The professor of classics and philosopher Martha Nussbaum says that in the search for a liveable life, a life that is rich and full one must embrace one’s ability to be in conflict with what appears to be opposing goods. A vital discussion about what kind of life we want to live is found in the tragedies, these wonderful poetic explorations of the feeling and thinking about life, stories filled with the richness of everyday humanity. Our human life is vulnerable to disaster because we care deeply. Tragedy is only possible when one is trying to live well.

“To be a good human being is to have an openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your control that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances.” The good human is based in a trust in the uncertain and a willingness to be exposed. He or she is grounded in being more like a plant than a jewel. That plant is something rather fragile but whose very particular beauty is expressed by that fragility. (sic. Martha Nussbaum from an interview with Bill Moyers)

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