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Living Beyond the Event Horizon

What does G. K. Chesterton, J. K. Rowling, and Viktor Frankl have in common? They all spoke about grief and suffering. I also think black holes are a great metaphor on this subject. I was thinking about black holes, and things the above named authors said, and ended up organizing my thoughts around a personal experience. Consequently, this blog entry is longer and more personal than usual; and, it also has more photos and even an embedded YouTube video. Just thought I'd warn you.


We're defined by secrets. As I grow older, I have more secrets and grow more defined. There are different kinds of secrets. Some are things not told. Others, are things not heard because they are things that can't be heard even if they're spoken. My secrets are mostly the latter. Living with these secrets is like living beyond the event horizon of a black hole.

The event horizon is that point where the gravitational pull of a black hole is so great that even light cannot escape and is drawn in. Our sight depends on light. If no light can escape, no light returns to give us sight and knowledge of those things transpiring inside. To the outside observer, an object falling into a black hole appears to continue traveling into the black hole forever without ever reaching it. However, if you are traveling into a black hole, you would pass through the event horizon as if nothing was out of the ordinary. In other words, the only person who sees beyond the event horizon of a black hole, is the one who's there.


Suffering is an event horizon with a perspective you can't appreciate unless you're there. I was reading about the Book of Job in Wikipedia and stumbled on this quote by Lev Shestov from Speculation and Revelation where he speaks to this disagreement between the reality of our lives and other peoples' perception.
The whole book [of Job] is one uninterrupted contest between the 'cries' of the much-afflicted Job and the 'reflections' of his rational friends. The friends, as true thinkers, look not at Job but at the 'general.' Job, however, does not wish to hear about the 'general'; he knows that the general is deaf and dumb - and that it is impossible to speak with it. 'But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God' (13:3).
Only God saw the real Job when he was suffering and only God could listen. However, Job wasn't sure he would and yearned for a mediator.
Job 9:32-33 For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.
We have the daysman Job longed for. His name is Jesus and he is our mediator.
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Job suffered in isolation. No one has to suffer that way today. However, people still can't see the real you beyond the event horizon even though they see your general representation. You know you're somewhere else and not quite the same person you were. They may ask themselves, "What did this person do to get there?" "What can I do to avoid ending up like them?" "Why can't I cheer them up?" They will think every thought except, "A good person is suffering through no fault of their own. It's not fair and I have no power to change anything. What's happening to them could easily happen to anyone including me."

I've noticed some people don't want to be around you if they can't cheer you up. I can understand this with strangers, but, it's true even with our families sometimes. It's strange when someone who had nothing to do with your suffering or sadness would think they have the power to snap you out of it; and even seem to think you're obligated to let them. It's better to take Paul's approach.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
I like the way J. K. Rowling talks about grief and how it changes and marks us. Harry Potter is beginning his 5th year at Hogwarts and is startled to see mysterious creatures called Thestrals. Up till that time, he thought Thestrals were mythical. Luna explains that only people have seen death can see them. Though Harry lost his parents as a baby, he never knew them. He only knew death after losing a personal friend during his fourth year.



I have suffered but much less than others. I got up early one morning before work recently and walked a mile and a half to the train station instead of driving. On my way, a man in a wheelchair accompanying his daughter to school crossed the street in front of me. She was riding a bike and he was keeping up. It wasn't electric. He was using his arms. He smiled and greeted me while passing. While zipping along on the train, I noticed a blind man walking briskly down a wide street behind his sweeping stick. I saw both these things on the same day as I was ready to congratulate myself for walking a mile and a half on my healthy legs. There are always others worse off than you handling what they endure better than you ever could. Gwen was one of those people.

Gwen
We were engaged. She had CML (chronic myelogenous leukemia) but was doing fine with Gleevic and had no apparent symptoms. I knew of people with CML who had taken Gleevic for ten years and were healthy otherwise. She developed an intolerance to the wonder drug and had to switch to Sprycel. It didn't work as well (if at all) and she experienced a lot of side effects. It may be the "side effects" were from the leukemia itself with it's complications ravaging her body unchecked by a drug that didn't work for her.

Gwen not feeling well

Gwen. kind and beautiful even when in pain
She was a Christian but began doubting God. I still sensed her belief beyond the very doubt she expressed. Doctrines about God's love were no comfort to her. She once said to me, "Whoever said God won't give you more than you can handle didn't know what the hell he was talking about." I didn't feel there was any point in encouraging her to say the "right words." Spleen pain would visit and usurp her reality, making it difficult for her to be aware of anything else. Pain is selfish. It tries to make you think it's all there is. She was in a different place from me. I could empathize with her but only so far. I could not see beyond the event horizon of her suffering.

In my blog entry titled, Job and His Comforters, I wrote something I'd like to paraphrase here.
In the heat and density of a black hole, Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics don't apply. In a similar way, religious doctrine doesn't apply or offer comfort during the heat and pressure of suffering. It's just you and God smashed together with no space in between.
Jesus' disciples couldn't see beyond the event horizon. When confronted with a man blind from birth, their first instinct was to ask Jesus a doctrinal question rather than take in what was before them.
John 9:1-2 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
John 9:3-5 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Jesus was saying, "You can't even ask the right questions so let's not waste our time on that when we have the suffering lying helpless before us. Let's focus on what we can do in the moment. Since, I'm here with you now, we can do a lot, so, let's get busy."

There is no punctuation in the Greek. I like the translation a teacher suggested that changes a period to a comma. It flows better and makes more sense to me. "...but that the works of God should be made manifest in him, I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day:" In other words, Jesus was saying, "I'm not focusing on how they got there, I'm focusing on using my limited time to do everything I can for as many as I can."

Gwen not long after chemo
I couldn't heal my fiance but I kept her company and comforted her the best I could. She once told me her greatest fear was of dying alone. She didn't. She died in a hospital room with her father holding one hand as I held the other. Other family members were there too. With her last words, she told us she loved us and that she wasn't afraid. She died right after that still holding our hands.

Kia was the best damn dog that I ever did know. She belonged to Gwen.
I kept her until she became debilitated with cancer and had to put her to sleep.
It's hard losing someone you love. However, there is no more meaningful thing than living the best you can up to the point of loss. It seems that time has more meaning there. To look back and see that your life meant something to someone is comforting in a mysterious and influential way. I see more clearly choices between meaning and pleasure; and meaning is more compelling to me than before.
“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” - Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl said the strongest and most direct things about suffering and meaning. Things he said stand like giant sequoias offering comfort and stability. He lived for a time beyond the event horizon where there are things that may be seen by only by those who've been there. He was a WWII German concentration camp survivor.

He also said:
The transitoriness of our existence in no way make it meaningless. For, in the past, nothing is irretrievably lost but everything is irrevocably stored.
Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualized? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal “footprint in the sands of time”?

If that speaks to you, I highly recommend, "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.

I experienced my own grief and little event horizon after my fiance passed away. I learned quickly that my experience was not easily understandable or share-able like vacations, restaurants, activities, accomplishments, or new stuff you just bought. I wasn't happy enough for others and didn't interact with them in a gratifying way. Looking back, I believe I was behaving appropriately. My attitude related to meaning rather than pleasure. I was grieving, but I was grounded and felt God's comforting presence. That has meaning itself.
2 Corinthians 1:4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
G. K. Chesterton, who wrote in the early 20th century, commented on the difference he saw in how the rich and poor approached grief.
Again, the educated classes have adopted a hideous and heathen custom of considering death as too dreadful to talk about, and letting it remain a secret for each person, like some private malformation. The poor, on the contrary, make a great gossip and display about bereavement; and they are right. They have hold of a truth of psychology which is at the back of all the funeral customs of the children of men. The way to lessen sorrow is to make a lot of it. The way to endure a painful crisis is to insist very much that it is a crisis; to permit people who must feel sad at least to feel important.
I wholeheartedly agree. However, if someone has never passed through the event horizon; who has never visited the other side to see the things that can only be seen when you're there; just understand - they won't understand. However, you can pass God's comfort to them, find 50 shades of meaning you never knew, and you will be slightly changed.

The strange thing about suffering is that while you're beyond the event horizon, all these beautiful things keep happening and unfolding in the familiar world outside, and eventually, you'll get to meet up there again.

My beautiful wife
My wife's son on his own journey
My son, his wife, and their daughter
My granddaughter with her step great grandfather. 
My mother, with 4 grandchildren and her great granddaughter
Cheers! There's so much meaning to live for!

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