Is there anything one can say beyond expressions of sympathy and support? Not to minimize the latter, but all of us want to know: WTF?! At times like this, life seems almost calculated to break our hearts, and the more we invest in it -- the more we love, care, and treasure -- the worse the heartbreak. Is this any way to run a cosmos?
They say that one of the biggest differences between men and women is that women will tend to just empathize and "be there" for someone in emotional pain, whereas men try to find practical solutions. To which I'm sure Ben can testify! A fellow might think he's come up with the Perfect Solution, and the next thing he knows, he's having the conversation with the flying plates (metaphorically speaking. At times).
I've mentioned before that in graduate school, students had to be involved in mandatory group psychotherapy. A female student was going on and on about some sort of problem with her marriage. I chimed in with what I thought was some choice advice, to which she responded with words to the effect of, "no, jackass, I don't need advice. I just need to express myself and feel understood."
Right. Got it.
Even so, the first thing I want to do is Consult the Elders and try to wrap my mind around it. In short, I can't help being me, jackass or no jackass.
I pull down a volume of Josef Pieper, and open to a couple of chapters called The Art of Not Yielding to Despair, and "Eternal Life" (quotation marks in original). The former touches on the persistence of Hope in the face of the End.
We all know the end is coming one way or the other, so by all rights we should always be in a state of despair, for it implies that "everything we do in this corporeal existence is deprived of value by the fact that in the end we all must die." Thus, "the ability not to yield to despair when confronted by the fact of death... is a matter of great practical concern to us all."
So there it is: we have every rational reason to feel hopeless and bereft of meaning.
But that is not what life is like. Indeed, life itself is a kind of audacious expression of hope, is it not? I say this because by definition it is always reaching beyond itself to an unknown future state, in defiance of all reason.
But it is the same with our spiritual life. Like life, our souls have a "not-yet" structure that points to a fulfillment that cannot occur on this plane, in any "here" or any "now" this side of death. It is very much as if our spiritual life points through and beyond death, to another reality, despite the evidence of our senses. For this reason, despair is the exception, not the rule.
So, our spiritual life is oriented to a future life, which we would say is the real object of our hope. In other words, the "not-yet" alluded to above is precisely the object of spiritual hope. We are attracted to it, just as we feel its pull. "Hope" is just the name we give to this process -- again knowing that the Hope cannot possibly be fulfilled on this side of death. Thus,
"the man who truly hopes, like the man who prays, must remain open to a fulfillment of which he knows neither in what hour nor in what form it will finally come."
In another chapter, Pieper cites the last canto of an obscure and somewhat awkwardly translated early 19th century poem that reads,
When my eyes their final tears have shed / You beckon, call me to divinity. / A man, a pilgrim, lays down his weary head, / A god begins his passage instantly.
Which I take to mean a new life in the orbit of the object that had previously been only darkly known via faith and hope.
And please forgive any unhelpful jackassery.