Not Everything Can Be Repaired

“there is a crack in everything
it’s how the light gets in”
Leonard Cohen

While saying so may run counter to the American can-do spirit, there are many conditions and situations for which there is no complete or satisfying solution. Chronic pain is one example, terminal illness is another. Medications, injections, and surgery do not always alleviate pain. A chronic condition is a permanent one. How is one to deal with a problem that cannot be solved? Psychological consultations can help with this.

What makes life meaningful is a very individual matter, but the loss, or threatened loss, of whatever it is that makes life meaningful can precipitate a psychological crisis. The ability to make a living at one’s normal occupation is centrally important for most people, and losing this ability can be devastating not only financially. Natural disasters, accidents, severe or prolonged illness, and even job loss and financial reverses can quickly make life feel unsupportable.

Such events also make clear how fragile human success, happiness, safety, and even survival can be. Anyone who has helped or tried to help people in extremity has been left more aware of how easily misfortune can occur to anyone. The illusion of safety, which makes it much easier to get through daily life, disappears in the face of traumatic events, whether these affect us directly or as witnesses. No one is safe, everyone is doomed. Despair is a natural reaction to the human condition.

Arguably, we do better if we don’t think about this all the time. But how to accomplish this? We also all differ in how we deal with fragility and mortality. Some find it easier than others to enjoy or celebrate life despite its underlying uncertainty. Everyone, though, has the choice of how to deal with these facts of life, that it, the facts of inevitable decline and death; of unequally distributed health, abilities, and opportunities; and of everything that happens to us without rhyme or reason, but as a matter of chance. Exercising this choice consciously, with deliberation, is something worth learning.

Many have sought help in religious faith, though more find comfort in their God, or in their faith communities, than they find anything approaching explanation for the misfortune that has befallen them. Theologians have sought answers since the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) opened up the question. The book tells of a wealthy and righteous man upon whom God sends a variety of afflictions. He loses nearly everything but his life. He loses his wealth and his children, and suffers illnesses. He wants to know why. He is beset by self-styled comforters who give him no comfort. In the end God speaks to him directly, in a dramatic voice out of the whirlwind, but this speech is enigmatic, seeming to say that God’s designs are great and Job himself too small to understand. In the end, Job’s health and wealth are restored to him, and his wife bears him more children. This was presumably God‘s reward for his having remained faithful despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We cannot count on such “happy endings,” however.

We still don’t know how to understand why we suffer, or why we suffer when others don’t — or even why others have to suffer. No one has satisfactorily explained how to reconcile an all-powerful and infinitely loving God with the suffering and injustice that are so plentiful. Suffering and injustice become a severe test of faith. Perhaps only a poetic understanding can even approach acceptance of these painful paradoxes. Each person confronted by a circumstance that cannot be repaired has to find their own way to understand it, and move forward — or not. Our choice. An added burden that we cannot shed. Sometimes psychotherapy can help with shouldering it.…

Website content © Thomas J. Rostafinski