Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Why does God allow suffering?

It is impossible to discuss adversity or grief without bringing up the concept of God. When I was doing my B.A. in Psychology, I did an honors thesis on the coping mechanisms of concentration camp survivors. I was surprised to discover that many had relied on religious faith to get them through the horror of the camps. I couldn't understand how persecuted people like Viktor Frankel could trust in a Higher Power who allowed such atrocities, let alone how Frankel was able to find meaning in a place as dismal as Auschwitz.

Some people gravitate towards prayer during difficult times whereas others lose their faith. I'm not religious. I'd like to believe but prayer for me is like dialing a phone number that rings and rings, but no one ever answers. My spiritually-inclined friends tell me that I'm looking for the wrong kind of answer. The answer that I want is an eradication of the worst kind of suffering and torture in this world -- suffering that is distributed so randomly. Of course, I will never receive that kind of answer to my pleas.

In his book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner tackles the tough question of where is God in the midst of our pain and distress. Kushner postulates that God must be either all powerful OR all good, but He cannot be both at the same time. He cannot and does not intervene in our lives because He has given us free will. Our bodies are mortal, therefore, subject to debilitating illness and disease. One person's exercise of free will can interfere with another's. Kushner's argument makes sense to me intellectually but is of no comfort emotionally.

Kushner says that we shouldn't ask God to heal our cancer, protect our children from pedophiles, or prevent Africa from sliding off the face of the continent due to HIV infection, famine, war and other calamities. These are the wrong types of prayer. Instead, we should request qualities from God such as strength, courage and tenacity to deal with hard times. Even Jim Morrison said, "Do Not Petition the Lord with Prayer!"

Some Eastern religions and New Age groups believe that the right type of prayer is to simply give thanks for all of the good things in our lives, and to learn to accept the more challenging ones.

The way I see God or a Higher Power is as a neutral force. I believe that there was a creation, and hence a Creator, but I view the Creator as neither benevolent nor malevolent. If the Creator made all things, then it made everything -- the good, the bad and the ugly. I find it strange that people attribute all of the goodness in the world to God, and all of the bad things to someone or something else (Satan, humanity itself, Rush Limbaugh. LOL.)

A good friend of mine is a Christian Scientist. Once she told me about a hurricane in Florida that had hit a particular area but had missed all of the Christian Scientists' homes! She thought that was amazing and wonderful, but I thought it was ridiculous and discriminating. Why would God choose to allow a fierce storm to destroy the homes of the non-Christian scientists? Why is it when parents pray at the bedside of a desperately sick child that they thank God when that child recovers? But they don't blame God if the child dies.

I don't blame God for anything. I don't think He or She exists, but I'm certainly in the minority. 90 to 95% of all of the world's people believe in some sort of power greater than themselves. I wish that I were one of them. I would especially like to believe in an afterlife -- to think that I will be reunited with my father, my good friend, Meg, who killed herself at the age of 25, my uncle and my grandparents.

Belief in the hereafter has sustained many families of murder victims. In her book Lovely Bones, Alice Seybold describes the graphic murder of young Susie Salmon, who narrates her story from Heaven. It's an interesting concept and by and large, Seybold did a good job. My Mothers Against Drunk Driving group had a spiritualist at one of their functions last year. They were widely criticized for doing so but this man brought comfort to those who had lost a loved one at the reckless hands of an inebriated driver. Who am I to judge the ways in which the injured derive solace?

What are your thoughts on God? Where is He when women and children go missing?

Sigrid Macdonald

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is one of the most moving, powerful books that I've read in a long time. It is the story about two young boys growing up in Afghanistan, drawn together by proximity yet separated by class and ethnicity.

The book is narrated by Amir, who reflects back in time to his relationship with his father's servant's son, Hassan. Amir and Hassan grow up together in the cozy, bustling city of Kabul before the Soviet takeover. One is rich and the other is poor. One is Sunni and the other is Sh'ia. All they have in common is their age and the fact that they are both motherless boys. Amir makes a serious and tragic decision at the age of 12 that will haunt him for the rest of his life. As Amir loses his innocence and respect for himself, so does Afghanistan collapse under rule by the Russians, and later by tyranny from the Taliban.

The Kite Runner is a beautiful, poignant, dramatic coming-of-age story that is about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, forgiveness and ultimately, redemption. It explores the complicated relationships that the Sunnis have with the Hazaras, and the even more tangled connection between fathers and sons.

This wonderful novel is currently ranked as number two on Amazon.com. Here's hoping that it will upstage Dan Brown's da Vinci Code, which was alright but more hype than substance.

If you have any books that you would like to recommend, please sign my guestbook.

Sigrid Macdonald

Monday, April 04, 2005

Turning 40

We live in a youth-oriented culture that values beauty and appearance over wisdom and experience. I still remember the day that I turned 30. I dressed in black from head to toe, lamenting the loss of the prime of my life. I was a part of the Woodstock Nation. Pete Townshend of The Who had warned me not to trust anyone over 30.

At 40, I was working in a women's center at Carleton University. Many of the members of my collective were in their twenties. I pretended to be 39 for three years in a row, so that these young women did not view me as their mother. We talked about racism, sexism, and ageism in broad general terms. But when it came down to the difference between my age and their age, and how old and unattractive that turning 40 made me feel, that topic was off limits.

When I turned 50, I prepared myself for a major identity crisis. I had been severely injured by a drunk driver at the age of 28, thus, my hip joint collapsed when I was 47. I required a total hip replacement at the age of 50. The only thing worse than turning 50 was turning 50 and needing a hip replacement! I felt more geriatric than I had ever imagined possible.

Now that I'm 52, I've decided to come out of the closet. I've started telling everyone how old I am, interjecting the news into completely unrelated conversations. I'm still hung up about my age and trying to get over it. The funny thing about getting older is learning that all of the old clich├ęs are true: youth is indeed wasted on the young, the time for love and forgiveness is always right now, and aging is more of a gift than a burden.

Think about it. We either get old or we die. I'll choose the former, thank you, even though I'm not very gracious about it.

In D'Amour Road, I explore the friendship between two women who are about to turn 40. One of them is reasonably comfortable with her age, but the other has major worries about it. She sees aging as a process that involves nothing but loss when in fact there is much to be gained by getting older. We do get wiser. We do accomplish goals that we never thought were possible. We do learn from our mistakes. What would be ideal would be to take this 52-year-old mind and put it back inside a 25-year-old body, but I don't think I'm going to have that option anytime soon.

That's not to deny the fact that loss is an integral part of growing older. We do lose things with every passing decade. Oftentimes, I wish that my teenage nephews were still 4 and 6 years old! They were so sweet at those ages and they loved spending time with me. Now, I can't catch them on their cell phones or their e-mail. They're not following Aunt Sigrid's life anymore because they're off on their own trip. That pains me. It's hard to keep moving into the future when we have to leave certain things behind. And by definition, moving forward means that we need to forsake some things that have been important to us.

As time goes on, many people's lives become divided into "before" and "after;" before I was raped, before I went bankrupt, before my son announced that he was gay. (None of those things actually happened to me. My before and after include "before my car accident" and "before my father died." Those two events shaped and defined my life.) Then there are also good things that happen to us -- I'm not implying that coming out as gay is a bad thing! My point was that it's a situation that might alarm certain parents and force them to look at their child completely differently.

In terms of good things, there is "before I got married, before I finished college, before my first baby." But whenever we move on to greener pastures, we must give up something, such as our independence, our free nights, or the ability to sleep straight through the evening without worrying about an infant in the next room. Gain and Lose -- it's the cycle of life.

I'm not a religious person. I'm not even spiritual. I'm more what Woody Allen called a "hopeful agnostic." But I really love that verse from Ecclesiastes that says that there is a time for everything. There's a time to be young and a time for middle-age. There is a time to grow old and to die, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's like sitting through a long movie; we may enjoy the show but we grow weary and want it to end. Not everyone is lucky to live long enough to see old age. Many people around the globe never even reach the age of five! Of course, that's a small consolation to someone who would rather be 25 than 52.

Please sign my guestbook and make your own comments about what it's been like for you at the turn of each decade. Is it different for women? Is it easier for men to age and gain respect or has the preoccupation with youth and beauty also affected men's view of themselves? Let's hear from you!

Sigrid Macdonald