Community of Suffering


All attempts to ignore or avoid pain and suffering are fruitless; just ask the father of the Buddha. Still, most of us do all we can to avoid it. Except for those rare souls who embrace it and so take away some of its terror.

Soul-numbing doubt didn’t keep Mother Teresa from confronting human suffering at its worst. A generation before her another humanitarian did the same, despite his pessimism.

Albert Schweitzer won the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian words and medical work in Africa. In his autobiography, Out of My Life and Thought, he writes,

I am pessimistic because I feel the full weight of what we conceive to be the absence of purpose in the course of world events. Only at rare moments have I felt really glad to be alive. I cannot help but feel the suffering of all around me, not only of humanity but of the whole of creation.

I have never tried to withdraw myself from this community of suffering. It seemed to me a matter of course that we should all take our share of the burden of pain that lies upon the world. Even while I was a boy at school it was clear to me that no explanation of the evil in the world could ever satisfy me; all explanations, I felt, ended in sophistries, and at bottom had no other object than to minimize our sensitivity to the misery around us …

But however concerned I was with the suffering in the world, I never let myself become lost in brooding over it. I always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of it to an end.

That last sentence is challenging enough to build an entire life on.

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3 thoughts on “Community of Suffering

  1. I have a friend that has been heartbroken over his return from a poorly run orphanage in the Dominican Republic. He carries that contrast of overwhelmed hopelessness and determination to stay in it and change things. I will share this with him.

  2. “We read to know we are not alone.” I don’t feel alone today, and am encouraged to do the little I can to reduce some suffering. Thanks, Mike.

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