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On Suffering

Published on June 16, 2012 by in Uncategorized

The Fall of Icarus

 One of my favorite poems is W.H. Auden’s  “The Old Masters”. It begins,

  “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;”

It was inspired by his visit to a museum where among others he saw Bruegel’s “The Fall of Icarus,” of which he says:

“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.”

 Over 15 years ago, I suffered a heart attack. When, after angioplasty, I went to the Intensive Care Unit, the Doctor told my wife there was no reason for her to stay, she could go home and get some rest.

 She said when she got outside the hospital and saw cars just driving blissfully up the street, she was angry. How could they be so ignorant of the drama in her life?

 I live on the flight path of the Life Flight helicopters. This morning, while I was blissfully drinking my coffee a helicopter flew over. I took just a moment to notice that a life or death struggle was taking place right over my head. I wondered about the injured, or ill, person; about his or her family; about the health care professionals working to save a life. I wondered for an instant then returned to my coffee.

 I’m reminded of another poem, this one by John Donne: 

 “No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”

Monday I will have long awaited surgery to replace my arthritic left knee. Many people have told me they will be praying for me. I’m not sure whether God will intervene in the surgical procedure, but it pleases me to know that I will be on someone’s mind.

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