I’ve been thinking lately about some of the great thinkers of the not too distant past and how they seem nearly obsessed with ideas of suffering and death.
First, take Arthur Schopenhauer. He was pretty sure we are all slaves to our desires and that satisfying our desires was a pretty short-lived proposition; new desires quickly appear leading to a fairly constant state of dis-satisfaction. Then there was Soren Kierkegaard who maintained despair is the rule for all men, eating away at one’s spirit causing the sickness unto death. He thought the solution was to embrace the absurd and take the leap into faith which, I must admit, makes me wonder a bit.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings are peppered with ideas on the topic, in part, I suspect, due to his own fairly constant physical infirmities. Rainer Maria Rilke entertained the notion that everyone carries their own Death around with them. He said that when Death’s time comes it gets to express itself in it’s own unique way. I guess no two Deaths are the same just as all people are different. Having Death as a constant companion would probably get a nod of approval from the ancient Stoics.
The Norwegians Knut Hamsun and the painter Edvard Munch, similarly, offer dark visions of man’s predicament. Hamsun’s writings are filled with existential angst while Munch’s paintings may serve to illustrate the common neuroses of primal fears we all seem to share.
Well, I guess there is the inevitability that eventually suffering and death will occupy each and every one of us but there is the implication among some of these men that perhaps facing up to life’s travails isn’t such a bad thing. Friedrich N. famously declared: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ I guess bearing suffering well does demand courage; you know, requires one to step up, see what one is made of and all that. It seems like most of the suffering I bear these days has to do with minor physical infirmities and fighting myself to avoid judging some of those in the political arena. The second of these is pretty painful.
All in all I really don’t think I need to suffer more. I’m really quite satisfied in my contemplation s within the warmth and security of my cozy room. And I feel pretty good about myself, exercising, as best I can, compassion for those around me. As far as getting friendly with my own death goes, I think I have enough social interaction right now without her. But, I suppose when the inevitable occurs I’ll try to face it with strength and decorum.