It is often observed that life can hardly be considered a gift or a blessing for the poor and those who suffer through disease, deformity or just terrible luck. That only one who has a generally comfortable existence relative to their situation could think so. The thing I notice about to the contrary with even the most downtrodden, is a determined desire to live; to maintain their existence however pitiful. The threshold of comfort below which life ceases to be worth living seems to be incredibly low.
This is so even for people that drop from a very high standard of living to low one. The people that I most often hear about ending their life tend to be people living historically wealthy and successful lives. The factors for giving up their life tend to vary, from mental illness such as depression, to public disgrace or out of desperation to end the suffering of a particularly vicious illness. I cannot think of a time when I’ve heard of someone ending their life simply for having a low standard of living.
None of the previous paragraph is the least bit academic and I could be entirely wrong about it but my instincts and experience suggest otherwise. My purpose for opening this way is just a vehicle for some thoughts on living and suffering in life.
Although not blessed with good looks, personality or any notable skills, I consider myself to have lived quite a blessed existence. There are many who have been given more by God than I have but on both a world and historical scale, I have had a very fortunate life thus far. I say this even despite my having lived the better part of my adult life in a smaller dwelling and with a lower income than I had during child and early adulthood. A simple rundown of my good fortune would be not having any deformities, never long being out of employment and having relatively few personal tragedies involving family and friends. I could go on.
Of course, I am conscious that this could change tomorrow or if I’m particularly unlucky, the instant I publish this post. I could be blinded, maimed or killed at any time. It is unlikely but far from impossible. Even if it were not to happen to me, something similar happening to a sibling, a child or anyone I love, could be very painful to me also. I don’t want to go much further with this because it is not something I think anyone should dwell on excessively but it is useful to mindful about this possibility on occasion.
Something I’ve noticed with myself though I am not sure others have had the same experience is that my thoughts will dwell on mortality most when I am at my most comfortable and when I have the least stress. Times when I am walking to the bus stop after work or when I have an exciting even on the horizon are such times. If I’m busy with work or family matters or under any significant stress, my mind won’t focus on this. I suppose the one exception would be with emotional stress.
The same is true with the voluntary suffering I undergo with regard to fasting and abstinence. In idle moments my mind begins to focus on the hunger I feel which usually has the effect of wanting me to do something to distract myself from this. Being fortunate not to have ever lacked for food or shelter, this is the only glimpse into suffering outside of bodily or emotional injury I have ever had.
I imagine that the one fortunate thing for the unfortunate is they have a focus of mind that people in my situation can only experience with self-discipline. Rather than dwelling on mortality, a lack of health or sustenance only increases their hunger for life and appreciation for it. This should not be interpreted as a defense of these situations but more as something for those in more fortunate circumstances to appreciate more what they have. Even if like me, you aren’t particularly rich, handsome or intelligent compared with those around you. If you live in the developed world, chances are you have more than the majority of humanity.
I have argued that there are rational reasons for the teachings, rules or practices of most religions. At least with my own, I can appreciate that there are good reasons to fast and abstain that although for the glory of God, can be argued for without invoking his name. Suffering can certainly be good for the soul and that is something that can be appreciated even if you seldom experience it.