It’s after midnight, and I’m tired but still seated at my desk, trying to deal with this thing that throws my whole life into question and makes me angry, grieved, confused, guilty, and resentful. You don’t need to know, Reader, ( if you exist ) the precise nature of this thing, because you could only, if you are a kind person, offer me your sympathy.
You think your sympathy is any good to me? You might say those untruthful words, ” I know how you feel.”
YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW I FEEL. Even if a similar trouble has afflicted you, you are not me, and cannot know how the thing feels to me. Yes, I could try to tell you; yes, you could ask shrewd questions, but no, we would not have eliminated the essential loneliness of human experience. It’s the same with pleasure; in the intimacy of sex, do I really know what that beloved person is feeling?
As I think these thoughts, he comes in and sits down in the chair opposite me. He is wearing jeans and a blue shirt, I observe, and carries a bottle of water in the modern way. This naff custom has always annoyed me.
“I suppose you’re going to offer me a drink?”
He he smiles and hands me the bottle, “As you see, it’s unopened. Sometimes the wardrobe people are a bit over the top.”
His equanimity annoys me.
“Or maybe you’ve come to offer me your sympathy?”
“Do you think you deserve sympathy?”
“Oh right, you mean that if I’ve got a roof over my head, enough to eat and nobody trying to kill me, I should thank the wise creator for being better off than most of his miserable creatures? But that’s mere childishness. I’m complaining about the administration, and it’s no answer to say it’s treated others worse than me.”
“But of course I do offer you my sympathy. I know how you feel”
“YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW I FEEL! I know you’ve suffered, but how would you like it if I said I knew how you felt on the cross”
“Perhaps we can all use our unique experiences of suffering to understand other sufferers. But in my case there’s something more: I do in fact know what you’re feeling.”
“How on earth can you know?”
“Because I am no longer limited to the earth.”
“If you think that, why not ask me about something you can’t know?”
“Well, tell me about not being limited to the earth.”
“I was dead and behold I am alive for evermore.”
” Don’t give me that Bible crap! If you’re real tell me something real.”
“On earth there are joy and sorrow, justice and injustice, love and hate, war and peace, good and evil, life and death. In heaven there are only joy, justice, love, peace, goodness and life.”
“So from the pinnacle of perfection you can look down at our struggles and SYMPATHISE! I hope we don’t spoil your happiness….”
“I spoke only of heaven, but heaven is not separate from earth. When we are on earth, joy with sorrow is a fact and unmixed joy is a hope. When we are in heaven unmixed joy is a fact and the sorrows of earth are a commitment.”
“You mean, you have a choice whether to feel them or not?”
“On earth commitment to others is a choice, in heaven it is a fact. All your suffering is real to us.”
“That must be a nasty additive to your unmixed joy.”
“If our joy was at the expense of your sorrow it would be imperfect; but because we are committed to your victory over sorrow, it is a perfect joy.
“So. I spoke without thinking. I accept your sympathy is real. But I’m not sure it does me any good.”
“Not in itself, you’re right. But it’s only the first step. If you trust that I understand, Then accept me as a comrade in your battle. There will still be wounds but perhaps you can can begin to see them as marks of battle rather than signs of defeat.”
I looked at him as if for the first time, and saw, even as he moved to conceal it, the mark of the nail on his right hand, still raw.