This morning I watched a L’Arche video about a massacre of disabled individuals that happened in Sagamihara, Japan, last year. The video quotes a letter by the killer in which he says, “the disabled can only create unhappiness.” So, to “spare” disabled people and their caregivers from suffering, this killer, a former caregiver himself, broke into a care facility and killed 19 people, stabbing them in their beds as they slept.
His actions are horrific and beyond most people’s ability to comprehend. That said, how often do we make the same mistake of assuming that suffering is the enemy of happiness? How often do we look away from the humanity of others because their disabilities, wounds, or pain make us uncomfortable, make us afraid?
I had a Facebook interaction yesterday with a woman who complained about the “emphasis” Christianity (Catholicism in particular) places on suffering. Shouldn’t a religion bring peace and joy? Why talk so much about suffering?
I can’t say I understand that complaint. We don’t cause suffering by acknowledging it. And peace and joy can exist alongside suffering. Sometimes, in that mysterious way internal life works, peace and joy come into being through suffering.
There isn’t a life, not a single life, that is spared suffering. Don’t we know this yet? Don’t we see it, experience it?We don’t like thinking about suffering. We cling to the hope that the right decisions or right philosophy will insulate us against it. We run to entertainment and alcohol and pleasure-seeking to distract ourselves from it.
We might find it uncomfortable to even be around suffering, around the hurting, the grieving, the abandoned, the wounded, the ill, the disabled. They remind us of our own vulnerability. They embarrass us with their naked need. We turn our eyes away from the suffering of the Sachikos and Lazaruses of the world and become blind as well to their beauty and happiness–and humanity.
We say things like, “I would never want to live like that,” when we don’t know what our subjective experience of our lives will be in the future. We offer assisted suicide to the terminally ill, to the disabled, but decry the deaths of the fit and young.
How transparent we are! How unmistakable is our message about which lives have value, all because we can’t believe suffering can co-exist with joy. All because we are afraid!
Image of Lazarus and the Rich Man by Eduard von Gebhardt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons