On Evil and Resilience
…In which we return to Questions for the Religious Journey…
Beach’s third question is a decision we continuously make, each cycle through our lives:
Can we acknowledge evil and tragedy and not lose heart?
Also written as:
Can we avoid being overtaken by bitterness, self-hatred, or despair?
I only have one answer: How not? What’s the other choice?
This was my response also, in the Summer of 2015, to a comment made by someone who saw me living with adversity. I was completing a 6 week radiation therapy to limit recurrence of the cancer I’d just had removed. My husband had just been RIF-ed out of a job he was doing well at and had worked hard to get. We had a staff person in my office who was disliked by many of our clients, and I was doing everything I could to try to smooth ruffled feathers. My father had just been diagnosed with a neurological condition with no treatment options and very little research. And other family members had painful things happening in their lives, too. This person who saw me every day (and who knew most of what was happening around me) commented on the strength I exhibited for getting up and going about living in the middle of it all. And I paused, right in the middle of what I was doing, and looked at him.
“What other choice do I have? I mean, really, what are the options here?”
At the time, I was getting up in the morning, getting showered and dressed, going to my radiation session right away. After being x-rayed and irradiated, I came home, put on lotion to stave off the worst of the burning, rested and drank a protein drink. Then I got up, got dressed again, and went to work, where I spent the rest of the day trying to get through a normal day’s schedule. Some days, I missed 1/3 of the day; others, when the radiation made me feel nauseous, I might have missed the entire morning, but I still arrived after lunch and did as much as I could.
I was devastated, yes, by my husband’s job loss - I won’t deny that it was triggering and terrifying, and that I spent a lot of time feeling the feelings I felt Back Then (in the 2 year gap he had before that job, when we felt lost and abandoned, unable to invite friends over because of the cost of the extra food to feed them, equally unable to meet them out for lunch or coffee.) I was devastated, but I also had the weight on my shoulders of having to carry both of us through this gap and into something new. The option to - what? Give up? Stop fighting every day for my own well-bring and a good life? I learned as a child that no-one can look out for my well-being as well as I can.
I spent the bulk of my 14th and 15th years fighting depression. That’s the first time the toska hit me, but not the last. I was raised in a British-American, stiff-upper-lip sort of family, where no-one quite knew what to do with my depression and where I was vaguely shamed for being depressed, as if it were a criticism of the effort expended to give me a warm home and healthy food. I’ve written elsewhere about my childhood - the point is that the best option I could see at the time was to learn enough mental health first aid to be able to save myself, and that became the script for how I approached adversity.
And so - the answer is Yes, of course we can learn to face evil and tragedy and not lose heart. I won’t say it’s easy - it’s not, it takes a whole lot of understanding trauma and the human psyche, and for most people, that means a fair bit of help - but it’s possible. And it’s worth doing.
How would you answer this question, “Can we acknowledge evil and tragedy and not lose heart”?
What are the most important lessons your life has taught you about this question?