“I’ve long felt it necessary to be sufficiently hard-nosed in order to survive psychologically through life but something inside tells me that sensitivity is just as important. Without it, without empathy, the world would be an impossibly harsh place. ” – Paul Fischer
Paul is a Londoner now living in Croatia. I am a lifelong American. You, as a reader of this blog, join others from a hundred countries on six continents. At a glance it seems the greater our geographical and cultural divide, the less likely any of us would relate. But life, and how we cope with it, is often a challenge for us all. Supposing there are others in varied states of misery who might like some company, Paul and I are letting you eavesdrop on our recent exchange of emails:
Yesterday, destiny decreed that I should carry a sick kitten to the local vet. It had arrived at a friend’s house and was clearly in trouble. The vet tried all he could but found it had eaten rat poison and, despite all the drips, medicines and medical paraphernalia, the kitten suffered an agonising death on the vet’s table. I guess the person who put down the poison in a residential area cared little for local cats. I was upset, teary eyed and not a little angry.
This kitten’s plight got through my outer protective shield and rattled my erstwhile comfortable existence. This was a surprise to me. Like most, I’d developed a hide sufficiently tough to withstand the regular barrage of negative influences to which we are all subjected. So why now? Why this cat? What was so different about this event that my self-preserving armour was pierced so easily? It’s not as if I hadn’t seen or read far worse. Was this the straw to break the camel’s back? This made me think about the volume, regularity and severity of other recent events to confront me. I started a mental list, yes, that’s boring, but what else could I do? Within five minutes and without thinking about it deeply, I found I was able to regurgitate these, all from the past week or so …
ISIL had set fire to a building and burnt to death dozens of people trapped inside, normal village people. Thirty seven people had drowned off the Greek coast having paid a lot of money to ‘agents’ to ship them in unsuitable boats across an unforgiving sea. Saudi executed a few dozen people for, in many cases, saying things the rulers didn’t like. Boko Haram had killed dozens of people in villages in east Africa and enslaved goodness knows how many others. Black rhinos are now gone, poached to extinction. A new disease (Zika) has appeared which threatens to flood parts of the world with damaged babies. The nutjobs of North Korea want to send a rocket up. Syria, Afghanistan Libya are at various stages of tearing themselves apart with the usual accompanying death and suffering. Zimbabwe and Eritrea are in the grip of a drought and we all know what will follow soon. Schengen is probably dead.
There are any number of on-going situations which cause me grief. There’s a semi-submerged island of trash in the Pacific, mostly plastic, bigger than Texas. The Black sea is effectively dead due to chemicals from European farms. Japan hunts whales for scientific research. VW was caught cheating about the noxious gases their cars pump into the atmosphere and, I suspect, all the others are doing something similar. Billions of pigs, chickens and cattle live their lives in cramped cages without a single day of reprieve. Billions of animals are killed in a savage and inhuman manner because of some rules written by men hundreds of years ago. The world’s wildlife population is diminishing rapidly due to human activity unless there is a profit to be had. There are more coal and oil power stations now than ever before. 95% (my guess) of countries are run by people interested only in their own interests. Slavery and the exploitation of women and children thrive as ever they did in primitive times.
This is not a thesis, I don’t have the intention to make a definitive list of the world’s ills. However, I’m starting to conclude that I must learn to harden my heart because the world is mostly a very bad place and not-at-all how I’d hoped it would be, or hide myself away and engage only in a delusional fluffy bunny existence filled with candy and ice cream. Oh, and healthy happy kittens.
You nailed it, with eloquence. I was at a friend’s home yesterday for his help with a project, and we talked over lunch afterward. Of all the troubles that are overwhelming him — terrible, life-changing troubles — he was most bothered yesterday by the recent discovery of a pile of pheasants on an acquaintance’s property. “He calls himself a hunter, and that’s okay if he used what he killed for food, but … beautiful pheasants … killed for what?”
It really bothered him. And me. My response was, “People. If we could only get rid of people it wouldn’t be so bad here,” and we laughed but we were half-serious.
When I was very young, I assumed the world was a bigger version of my little one: happy, secure and safe. TV burst my bubble one day with a commercial showing starving children in Africa — you know, the ones with flies on their faces and distended bellies. I sat cross-legged in front of the image, and thought, “That could be me. I could have been born there. Why do I have food and safety and they have that?” Compounding my little revelation of the real world, was that nobody seemed to care about the babies with flies on their faces and distended bellies. What was this unfair world?
Of course it only got worse the longer I lived. I’ve had my “fight” knocked down like you experienced today, and holed up afterward in what I call a marshmallow-and-pudding existence. But not for long. Even when I don’t want it to, the little fighter in me bounces back and starts tackling that big bad world I so often despise. With each rebound I’m less willing to waste my efforts in the wrong places, and only want to relate with the world where it’s on the “building up” end of things, never on the “tearing down” end. Who knows, maybe if enough of us do that we can regain ground from those hell-bend on destruction.
Thank you, Cindi. I knew our kindred spirits are close enough that you would instantly understand.
You are an irreplaceable friend, Paul. And an excellent writer. I think your words should be shared with as many people as possible; surely many people would identify and feel less alone, knowing someone out there feels the same.
Maybe our emails would fit nicely into your blog, one wounded heart comforted by another – across the oceans and across the widest of theological divides.
So we did just that, as evidence that coping with life is a universal challenge. Though it may not seem so, you’re not the only one with the thoughts or emotions you have — someone somewhere is experiencing the same. I propose that when you’ve sufficiently recovered from whatever has knocked you down, you get back out there in this world we share and overcome evil with good — one day at a time, one deed at a time, one soul at a time — across the oceans and widest of divides.