Saturday, August 11, 2012

Heroic Resignation: Making Peace with Uncertainty and Suffering

Win Blevins.  Stone Song: A Novel About the Life of Crazy Horse.  New York: Forge, 1995.  ISBN: 0812533690.  

One last quote from this novel (from page 366):
Crazy Horse shrugged.  Yes, yes, there was white fire coming at him, and the hands of his own people were grabbing at him from behind, and he might be hurt.  He felt the rightness of it.  He wanted to survive, but maybe he wouldn't.  He would ride and feel the rightness under him like a fine, spirited pony.
Life is uncertain.  I am weak.  I cannot prepare against all contingencies.  I cannot answer all questions or solve all problems (in my own life, let alone the lives of other people).  But I can meet them with dignity.  Win or lose, I can strike a heroic pose.  I can do my best work, and the result be whatever it is going to be.  I can tell the truth as I see it, and let the cards fall.  That is all I ask of the world, because that is really all it is able to give me.

Inasmuch as my journey to this realization has come through being "betrayed" by others and by my own unrealistic expectations over the years, I am actually grateful -- yes, grateful -- to have been betrayed.  The closest I can come to forgiving others (especially church leaders) and myself is to reflect that our foolish actions have had at least one happy accident: I understand life better because of them.  The bitter has taught me to prize the sweet.  I don't know how it could be any other way: to avoid one path of bitterness is really just to fall into another one.  As bitter paths go, modern Mormonism seems like a really nice one (better than many!).  So I don't regret being a Mormon.  There are still many things in Mormonism that I like.  I don't want to erase my past, any more than I wish to get out of my present: I cannot imagine living without either.

As painful and as real as my soul-wounds are sometimes, they are not utterly awful.  As the Buddha recognized, all emotion is suffering.  You cannot have pleasure without pain, and every pain comes tinged with some kind of pleasure -- a palliative to help us bear what we must in order to survive.  I see this and accept it.


  1. Facing trauma with dignity or heroism is inconsequential except for the benefit of bystanders' perception of you.

    Trauma is best faced with a self-possessed and serene demeanor... but only because it might allow you to remain in control and, therefore, better able to asses it and deal with it.

    1. I agree with this, to some extent. To me there is little difference worth quibbling about between dignity and serenity, but I do see value in facing the inevitable without flinching -- even when there is no hope of getting out. Maybe serving as a good example to others is worth something, too? I think of men like Thrasea Paetus calmly cutting open their veins and bleeding to death (not because they wanted to, but because the emperor demanded it): they died with dignity when life became impossible. They did not seek suicide, but when it found them, they were ready.

  2. Indeed, for the benefit of others.

    Regarding one's attitude at the moment of death, sure, it is more desirable to be in control for the sake of avoiding uncontrollable panic, etc. But, then again, in that scenario you are soon dead. It makes no difference if you raised your chin or shat your pants.

    Good blog, btw. Thank you for taking the time to share.