Dear President Trump,
Sometimes I know the night before what I want to write to you about in the morning, but last night was not one of those nights. I’ve been topically untethered for some 10 hours and I don’t like it. What’s worse is that this morning all I’ve been able to think about for this letter is the issue of suffering, which is such a huge, well-trod topic that it doesn’t seem like a good one to tackle. Plus, suffering is awful and I don’t really want to focus on it. So, I cast about for other topics in the morning paper to find something else to focus on, anything else. I thought maybe I could gather up enough righteous indignation to lambast you about your plans to pardon anyone in your administration who runs afoul of the law to build you your damn wall ahead of the 2020 election, but all that’s just so much bullshit that I can’t give it any more energy than it took to write this sentence.
Of course every other dang article I happened (“happened”) to read this morning touched on suffering in some way. There was the one about the second grade boy with autism who was crying on his first day of school and how another little boy reached out and held his hand. They are best buds now. Then there was the one about the Chevy Chase, MD, lady whose house is adjacent to a new dog park who calls the cops every day because she can’t focus on her painting with the dogs playing and barking outside her window. There was the article about the woman who is working with parking garage companies in Charlotte, NC to get suicide prevention signs hung in strategic locations to give people options if they are feeling hopeless like she did 30 years ago (six people have jumped from parking garages in that city). There was also the story of the 16 young women who the judge in the Epstein criminal trial invited to testify and how they spoke of what he did to them and urged the court to hold his accomplices accountable.
Clearly one of these examples is not like the rest. The Chevy Chase lady stands out as an example of someone who scaled up a grievance by misusing public safety resources and lashing out at her community, in the process casting herself as an absurd victim. Hers is an example of how entitlement can lead to suffering. The others, though, are examples of how the hand one was dealt, whether through genetics, unrelenting stress, or incidents of harm or abuse perpetrated by another person (and any and all combinations thereof), can also lead to suffering. Basic, basic stuff, I know. Even still, I think it’s useful to point out that the ways Chevy Chase lady is trying to assuage her suffering are all likely compounding it.
The crying boy didn’t know what else to do but cry, and when shown some kindness, accept it and hold on, which are really good instincts when one is suffering. The woman who is advocating for Charlotte resident’s mental health is using her hard won empathy from her own past experiences of suffering to prevent others who are currently suffering from taking their lives. She is also, by her example and through her outreach, helping other African Americans who are struggling with mental health issues consider the possibility that such concerns are not signs of weakness (no, they really are not) and that getting treatment for them is an option. With regards to the final example of suffering identified above, many of the young women who were robbed of their chance to confront Epstein in court by his suicide, spoke of how they drew strength from one another, how important it was to them that what happened not remain a secret, and that in speaking out they were refusing to bear the shame of what he did to them.
All three of these responses to suffering are courageous and healthy. All three involve risking letting others in on what is either going on now or the painful stuff that went on in the past.
And in thinking and writing about these examples of suffering, I keep circling back to that WP picture from your NH rally with the ill-looking people with no teeth. I keep thinking about how you’ve taken advantage of their suffering with your damn fear mongering and by giving them any number of handy scapegoats to blame for their situations. Even though they get to feel pumped up and powerful when they yell stuff like “send her back!” you’re compounding their suffering because you’re not offering them any real support, solace, or way to address the root causes of their pain. Yes, they bear significant responsibility for being taken in by you and your ginned up grievances, but many of them and their families have been pawns for you and your ilk for generations now so it’s really impossible to neatly divvy up the blame for all this, and besides, there’s plenty to go around.
As more and more of your base realizes you’re nothing but a nasty huckster, they’ll continue peeling off, tilting those Fox polls away from you. And you will go even more nuts and the GOP will be SOL, looking like the greedy fools that they are. Yes indeedy, when you pile suffering on suffering people, you do pay for it in the end.
May we be safe from suffering brought about by immoral politicians.
May we be happy to stand together, to hold one another’s hands.
May we recognize that there are healthy and there are unhealthy ways of coping with suffering.
May we make peace with the fact of suffering and still not surrender to it.