The Deansmen, one of Bates’ all-male a cappella groups, are known to make some people cry with their beautiful voices, but it seems that almost everyone cries or at least gets the chills when they sing their rendition of “I Shall Not Walk Alone.” As it was, the Deansmen sang that very song in the Gomes Chapel last Tuesday during the memorial for the Bates students, faculty, and staff who passed away in the last year.
The song reminds us to hold on to each other, to remember that “Hope is alive while we’re apart,” and that even in times of the deepest sadness in our lives, we will discover a way to find tomorrow even with only the “beauty” of those that we have “left behind.”
Although we all must handle the suffering of losing someone close to us, Batesies do not seem to talk about these hard times all too often –– unless it is in small groups with one’s closest friends. The memorial service was a time to come together not only to celebrate many completed lives, but also to remember that we are all human and all have our experiences with hardship. Struggles such as deaths, illness, trouble at home, abuse, anxiety, depression, etc., all seem like big secrets here. Perhaps if we were all more open with each other, we would realize that although we may not understand what someone else is going through, we can at least learn to be compassionate and listen.
“Interpretation of the experience is necessary, but it can only be attempted by the person who is suffering. In the moment, suffering is totalizing, it is all that is, and finding a way to incorporate that overwhelming and disrupting experience into the time frame of a whole life is a crucial challenge that is never quickly resolved,” said Raymond Clothier, Bates’ acting associate Multifaith Chaplain.
Similarly, when someone has a serious problem, that person must realize that they have to change in order to fix themselves. Until someone recognizes that they can change, people are not going to do it for them. This can be difficult for friends who try in vain to help other friends and are repeatedly unsuccessful.
“I think people will complain a ton to their friends about stuff ranging from hook-ups to the winter but instead of really taking action about their problems we tend to treat drinking ourselves into the gutter as a way of just forgetting about everything. This might be legitimate for some people but for others I think they’re really just fooling themselves,” said senior Ansel Tessitore.
In “The Value of Suffering,” New York Times occasional columnist Pico Iyer ponders what our human suffering amounts to and what it means. Iyer describes how most religious traditions believe suffering bring us clarity, but it is difficult to find this type of clarity when 1400 innocent people are gassed in Syria or your roommate’s best friend passes away from cancer, or when you have serious depression.
Many people I have talked to love to say that “Everything happens for a reason” and that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I not only think this is untrue, but also that it might suggest that some of the people who say this do because they haven’t completely given these types of questions serious thought. There is no reason that your cousin has an auto-immune disorder or that your father is dying from cancer.
Everyone should know by now that the worst thing you can do to make someone feel better is try to minimize their problem or come up with ideas of something they might not have tried. News flash: sometimes it is O.K. to listen and not know what to say. It does not make the sufferer feel better when you say they will become stronger because their friend died or they will learn about themselves when they sit the soccer season out because of a concussion. Sometimes life just stinks.
“The only thing worse than assuming you could get the better of suffering, I began to think (though I’m no Buddhist), is imagining you could do nothing in its wake. Sometimes it’s those things we least understand that deserve our deepest trust. Isn’t that what love and wonder tell us, too?” Iyer wrote in the Times article.
Maybe we should take some of the advice from the Deansmens’ song. To remember that there is “light” and that we will “live again” with the help of friends and our community and not to be ashamed of the suffering we go through, and that we are humans because we suffer. We don’t always have to walk alone.