You can’t truly understand. But I feel so empty today. A mild sadness. I don’t know where the emptiness or mild sadness comes from. Is it age? Is it old trauma? Is it purely physiological? Is it this May Gray and June Gloom digging in late July? Or, dysthymia?
Or is it just life — or my particular state of life?
I really have nothing to complain about. Life’s never perfect, but it’s good right now. It really is.
You can’t actually understand because all feelings, thoughts, and sensations are subjective — that is Wittgenstein’s Beetle in a Box thought experiment. If I tell you I have a headache and you say, “So do I,” there is no possible way to know we feel the same feeling in our respective skulls. I can only assume how your head feels. And the same applies to feeling tired, anxious, hopeful, or sweetness.
The rudders of pleasure and pain drive us, as Aristotle told us. All of us. Every action — based on this innate proclivity from the moment we wake until we sleep again…
Avoid pain. Pursue pleasure.
But what about suffering? Aristotle didn’t mention suffering. And there’s a difference. Right now, my calves are sore from a sprinting workout — pain.
Countless children are experiencing hunger, disease, severe abuse, and neglect — that’s suffering.
It was Frankyl who, while in the concentration camp at Theresienstadt, realized that despite the freedoms ripped from him, he nonetheless possessed liberties: he could exercise, encourage others, and refuse to demonize her captors.
He never lived in denial with any form of toxic positivity. He accepted reality. And, he accepted his ability to, nonetheless, exercise his few freedoms.
And it was Dostoyevsky (understanding too well due to his violent and unexpected epileptic seizures) who said, “Accept suffering and be redeemed by it.”
I lost my Mother two years ago. For some reason, the loss jolted my senses this week yet again.
Some of you have experienced loss and the subsequent stages: denial, depression, anger, and bargaining.
Day by day, and year by year, I am coming to realize the redemptive part of this loss, this suffering, and it brings such hope.
In our personal lives and work, may we all strengthen our capacity to meet setbacks with understanding. May we even be redeemed by it.
Jack-of-all-trades. Hack-of-all-Trades. That me, if you want to know the truth.
Today I will spend time with my Leica. I still barely know how to use it (not enough time learn), how to utilize natural light (not enough time to learn), how to capture the right blend of uniformity amidst variety (not enough time to learn), who to shoot (nobody willing).
For no other reason than nine lives lore, I can find myself wishing to be a cat. Why? How else to pursue the nagging passions?
In trying to cram them into this one, earthly, life, like today I’m Paul-the-photographer, the result is the quintessential jack of all trades, master of none.
Paul, the hack-of-all-trades.
Fact is, I specialize at exactly nothing, other than the specialty of little bit of this and little bit of that.
Nine lives Paul, no doubt, would be posting today of the limitations of having only nine lives.
If I had to choose today? Most likely:
#1 Photographer: more of humanity than nature, in the Annie Leibovitz realm.
#2 Revolutionary: Going all-in like Jesus (more than anyone else) and MLK and Gandhi and Bob Dylan and Harriet Tubman and Wittgenstein and Saint Francis and Bonhoeffer and Luther and Céaser Chávez. (Please visit forthechildren.org to sign the pledge and help me on this one.)
#3 Botanist/zoologist: Because Albert Schweitzer.
#4 Philosopher: In the spirit of Aristotle. My BA and MA helped greatly, but only almost scratched the surface of understanding metaphysics, epistemology, logic, aesthetics, ethics.
#5 Geologist: I know almost nothing about how the earth is composed nor how plate tectonics work, and that bugs me.
#6 Gypsy: A full-time observer. And truth-teller, no matter the cost. Just to travel to and from, to lick the globe, minus the encumbrances of money, schedules, social pressures to be “responsible.”
#7 Cook: Not a chef — a farmer who spends as much time attending to the ingredients (soil, sun, water, freshness) as much as the cooking part.
#8 Historian: Not sure which era nor region. Eighty-one lives wouldn’t be enough to satisfy my craving to learn about all those people from all those places during all those times.
#9 Musician: I play bass (decently), guitar (average at best), trumpet and piano (below average at best).
Are you a hack-of-all-trades, too?
P.S. I forgot art historian, especially into the minds of Van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso… Oh, and a college professor (philosophy), oceanographer, architect, triathlete, yoga instructor, theologian, hermit.
This is my daughter, Bree. She is a student at Columbia Medical School. Because she works in the hospital, she was able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
Growing up, I indoctrinated my children. Often to their chagrin, there were lectures, tutors, and many conversations about philosophy, faith, politics, and science — the stuff that really matters in life.
But I never tried to never tell them what to think — I taught them HOW to think. I taught them that knowledge isn’t the same as belief. That truth and certainty are, also, very different.
They learned the difference between a priori and a posteriori, sound versus unsound premises, logical fallacies, and how to spot the ever-so-common false dualism.
They were to respect those of other faiths, no faiths, other political parties (and I never revealed to them who I voted for or which party I belonged to) — that it was easier to hate your opponent than to take the time to understand his or her point of view.
Finally, I taught them to trust the guilds of science — empiricism — and beware of the allure of trendy conspiracy theories (which are based on the fallacy of affirming the consequent). That the Center For Disease Control, The National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and The American Medical Association — tens of thousands of the world’s greatest scientists and doctors — develop and administer vaccinations for viruses such as polio, smallpox, measles, rabies. Countless lives, as a result, are saved.
I’m proud of Bree, and those like her on the front lines who study and trust science and give their lives to keeping us safe.
Some things you can change. Some things you can’t.
You can pray.
You can act.
You can raise awareness.
But sometimes, surrender. Because you can only do so much.
The world is full of suffering. Insidious kinds of suffering. I wrote about suffering here.
Atheists use suffering as an argument against the existence of God.
Their logic goes like this:
If God exists, he must be good
If he is good, he would not allow needless suffering (like children being locked up in homes with their abusers)
The world is full of needless suffering
Therefore, God does not exist
Philosophers call this puzzle the Problem of Evil: Technically, The epistemic question posed by evil is whether the world contains undesirable states of affairs that provide the basis for an argument that makes it unreasonable to believe in the existence of God.
Some suffering is from natural evil — disease and disasters.
The other is due to human evil — things people do to others, bringing physical and emotional (or both) pain.
(As an aside, I’m reading The Book Thief for the first time.)
Humans can’t do anything to prevent natural evil; we can’t prevent earthquakes or tsunamis or tornadoes.
But human evil — physical abuse and rape and verbal abuse and greed — can be stopped.
People have choices. (Though I do hold to a libertarian view of free will, I still, often, find myself afraid that most of our actions are done without decision — we are in autopilot more than we want to believe.)
Even so, human evil is prevalent. (You and I have played our own parts in it.)
When my children were young, one of our prayers before bedtime was the Serenity Prayer. We’d pray it after the Our Father, Glory Be, then Anglican prayer of repentance. Anyway, it’s not really Christian, but it’s a good one: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Acceptance and surrender are the same thing.
The good news is that human evil can be curbed through education, intervention, legal sanction, attending 12-Step meetings.
But even then, you can only do so much. Evil still happens.