by John Stoehr
Suffering is never easy to understand. When a colleague of mine told me about his friend, I was reminded of that. This friend died in a horrible way. One might conclude that he suffered terribly. Human nature can be so indifferent to other's suffering. I don't know if that's a bad thing. That is, I don't think we should be. But it is in our nature to be indifferent. While some face adversity, others just get on. Makes sense. Suffering is so commonplace as to be completely ordinary. The Old Masters, like Brueghel, knew this. The English poet W. H. Auden put in the best terms possible.
"Musée des Beaux Arts"
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.