The idea that bad things happen to Good people, and that the Bad never die soon enough.
Death of a Sole Survivor
In the famous story, Zorba, The Greek, the main characters illustrate, by dancing, a method of coping with the tragedies and frustrations of life. In so doing, they submit and humble themselves to the forces of trial and circumstance that can never be cheated, fooled, or defeated.
An old saying tells us “the good die young”. Unspoken is the reverse which might suggest “the bad die old”. The question has often been raised as to why bad things happen to good people. And why long, healthy lives are sometimes enjoyed by evil, dastardly people.
In the dark little ditty that follows, Spaceship Earth, a metaphor used to describe everyone and everything as passengers aboard a craft hurtling through the cosmos, is also a place where, though the music is loud and lovely, some people can never dance. Can never reconcile the jovial ballroom inside, and the hostile wasteland of the dead and dying, just outside.
Similar to the doomed rows of innocent victims who once stood outside of European railcars, some selected to work, others to die, a finger of mindless fate points some to waltz, others to starve. Directs some to know only happiness, while others suffer only misery and pain.
Planet Earth is crash landing in slow motion. As a result of the catastrophe, innumerable fatalities -- suffered by all manner of living things -- abound. With specific regard to humans, most languish from either minor or serious wounds. Many more will eventually die from their injuries. Amid the carnage, precious few have thus far escaped unscathed and these will, for the most part, live long and healthy lives.
Under identical conditions that transpire in real life, as opposed to the preceding parable, survivors of actual airplane crashes, train wrecks, or other such disasters, often suffer psychological distress due to their inability to explain or justify the good fortune or supernatural force that permitted them to live. Referred to as “sole survivor syndrome” or “post-traumatic stress disorder”, these common infirmities prevail as an unexpected response to what would otherwise be considered a lucky turn in one’s favor.
Few question the winning of large sums of money in the same manner we fret over someone’s cheating of death by equal accident. To some extent, no amount of counseling can quell the nagging, irksome fear that one was not worthy or deserving of their unearned survival. Certainly much less so than the many better people who perished instead.
In similar fashion, we hearken to the original analogy submitted prior, whereas the Earth itself is compared to an airplane, or space vehicle, its complement of passengers representing the whole of humanity. Even as this essay is read, the Earth-ship continues to crash and skid across the ground, taking a terrible toll as it goes. The edge of a cliff is in sight and one can only pray the craft stops in time, before it reaches the furthermost point and then plunges over the precipice into an abyss below. A final disaster which could spell the end of the human race once and forever.
The historical record of a human presence on Earth is, to a large and jumbled extent, a dismal chronicle rife with cruelty, tragedy, ironic and glorious achievement. It is a story of the need for a new redemption, of a saving grace that will balance or offset the inhumane atrocities spawned from advanced brains absent an equal level of wisdom. Beings whose savage, brutal nature is amplified, enhanced, accelerated by a raw intelligence with both the ability to speak and express complex, abstract ideas.
Akin to a young Jewish boy's bar mitzvah, the question is begged, at what time, during which era or epoch, did humans reach an age of accountability? A point when people could willingly, knowingly, decisively choose between malice and compassion, helpfulness and apathy. Certainly one of humankind’s greatest evils was slavery, and its abolition the most notable of triumphs. Some persuasive truth found its way into an uncivilized human psyche and, once there, forever eliminated the scourge of people owning people. A realization that changed forever, and for the better, the way people could behave.
Even today, however, dark pockets of slavery persist, kept alive by entrepreneurs who know better, are aware of the evils they promote, but remain unmoved, unswayed, interested only in personal enrichment at any price.
It is long since irrelevant as to just when humanity became of age. Far more, that the time has come and gone. A benevolent treasure chest, a more positive version of Pandora’s box, long opened, has already freed the great and kindly angels of the human spirit. Beneficent insights have burned enlightenment into the deepest, darkest recesses of the bestial mind, given hope to the hopeless, and tradition to hapless, nomadic wanderers.
Unfortunately humankind has proven to be a slow learner, a slow teacher as well. Isolated cloisters of the wealthy, the educated and well fed have been, and continue to be, somehow content that the bulk of their brethren languish in squalor. Unable or unwilling to rescue those who, decade upon decade, during an ever more enlightened age, perish by the countless millions. Especially children.
The modern world wars of the twentieth century alone, shed enough blood, wrought horrors in sufficient quantity that perhaps no amount of subsequent good can undo the wrongs done. Perhaps no deliverance, no emancipation will ever be possible, no self-forgiveness in the offing, no contrition great enough, whereby humanity remains forever soiled, irrevocably spoiled, and beyond all redemption.
It is a sad tale of one who murders a neighbor the day after their bat mitzvah, then goes undiscovered and unpunished. Who despite a lifetime of subsequent good deeds, can never restore the stolen life of their single victim. A notion that suggests, indeed asserts, the one truly murdered was the killer herself.
Spaceship Earth is crashing, and its passengers are dying at unprecedented rates. Those in first-class do not, cannot, and mostly choose not to hear the pleas and cries of their fellows in coach, who perish within earshot, within reach. The plentiful bounties enjoyed by those who, only by fluke of fate, travel unscathed, are piled high to every side and obscure all views of those who are already dead. Or soon will be. For lack of some trifle vomited up by an anorexic brat with Bulimia.
I am among the sole survivors who must somehow account for my good fortune, my undeserved blessing bestowed by an anonymous God. But I am not free, not off-the-hook entirely. Because I know. I have seen the suffering. I am aware of the pain and hopelessness that surrounds me. The terrible knowledge is a part of me for which no pill, no bauble, no amount of charitable donations, can offer relief from my personal anguish, albeit petty by comparison.
I am not a survivor due to my own hard work. Rather I am a consumer, some of whose appetites are satisfied by labors of both necessity and love.
I am lucky, which is a simplistic yet probably accurate estimate of my privileged condition. But others are less than unlucky. Many are less than unfortunate. Most of the world’s children die of starvation and disease, while overweight diabetics ponder the pros and cons of abortion. While elitist, wannabe aristocrats purge whole meals for the sake of a fashion statement.
I am one of the inheritors of a licentious legacy. Of an abundance for the few, denied to the many. As a sole survivor, a neurotic sense of guilt disturbs my sleep. Some foreboding sense of a premature death yet to come, unsettles my life. Some forbidding judgment that yet awaits, condemns me for not caring enough, not seeing or listening or doing enough.
If I am to continue to live, to thrive, I must get my mind right, my head straight. I must stay well, enjoy and appreciate the great gifts made available to me.
I must no longer allow myself to care, to see, to listen. Nor allow the nagging troubles of the world to bum me out, to burn me out. Before insanity robs me of all joy. Before I lose myself in the delusion that all people are my brothers and sisters.
Or that God will someday cease to weep.