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Ordinary heroes shine on suffering

  • 29 January 2016

Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, prolific writer in Yiddish, often made his characters ask the eternal questions. Chief among these was: Why do we suffer? For to be human is to suffer, but it is also human to seek to solve this great puzzle. There appears to be no satisfactory solution, however, even though mighty intellects have often tried to supply one.

The Book of Job, probably written in the 6th century BC, and therefore the oldest book in the Bible, has the matter of suffering as its subject. Job was a man greatly blessed in life: he had ten living children, property, wealth, and many animals. He was 'the greatest of all the men in the east'.

But then, being tested by God, he lost his children and all his worldly goods, and was visited by a plague of boils as a kind of last straw. His friends, the famous 'Job's comforters', insisted his trials were a punishment for sin.

Fast forward to Shakespeare, who made pagan King Lear complain that 'as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.' 

And on further still to writers like Camus, who thought that relentless and irrational suffering was simply part of an absurd world with all its indifference and meaninglessness. In his towering work The Plague, Camus took up the themes explored in the Book of Job.

At this point in a fairly long life, and certainly without a mighty intellect, I can't profess to have any answers, except that it is obvious that time and chance happeneth to all.

Two examples of such happenings are the huge numbers of ill-fated refugees fleeing Syria and other trouble spots, often dying in the attempt to reach a tenuous sort of safety; and, closer to home, the needless death of young Sarah Paino of Hobart, wife and mother, who was killed when a speeding stolen car, with an underage driver at the wheel, crashed into hers. Her two-year-old son and unborn baby, who was later delivered by doctors, survived.

In today's world of high-speed, hi-tech communication, we are only too privy to the hardship that is everywhere. Even when experienced vicariously, examples of evil, suffering, and loss threaten to overwhelm us. Small wonder that American research indicate a marked lessening in empathy in college students, who seem less and less inclined to walk a mile in another person's moccasins, and that counsellors and