September 1998

Successful Summer Social

Our annual summer gathering was enjoyed by all who attended. The third try at including shrimp with the chicken entrée turned out to be the charm! The shrimp was delicious.

Conversation at the happy hour and during dinner was stimulating and lively. The highlight of the evening was the speech delivered by Don Gale, KSL Vice President and former editorial presenter. Mr. Gale artfully mixed wit and wisdom in his contrasting of the lives of his recently deceased father and his prospective view of what his four-year-old daughter’s life will be like. The past century has seen the advent of automobiles, flight, space travel and the information age. There is no reason to believe that technological advances will cease. Imagine what life will be like in 100 years. The important thing is to keep our sense of humor and to keep our political system vibrant and alive.

In one of his humorous interludes Mr. Gale noted that he has been promoted to the position of Vice President. Large corporations typically have numerous VP’s and KSL is no different in this regard. Mr. Gale pined that he is having a difficult time figuring out exactly what to do–after all the whole United States of America only has one VP, and nobody really knows what he does.

Congratulations and thanks to board member Rolf Kay for another successful social event.

Why Me? Why Now?

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“There is death: the death of those we love dearly, the death of public figures whose lives enrich ours, and ultimately our own death. There is loss: the loss of a job, the loss of a mate, the loss of a home, the loss of special possessions. There is failure: the failure to achieve a desired goal, the failure to obtain employment we seek, the failure to raise our children as we would like, the failure to communicate well with our parents. There is suffering: the suffering of mental anxiety, the suffering of emotional anguish, the suffering of physical pain. There is fear: the fear of death and loss, the fear of failure and suffering. Each of us has known these and other distressing things. There is no special blessing or curse in this. Live long enough and hurt will come your way sooner or later, usually sooner.”

With these words Kenneth Phifer opens his article, “Why Me? Why Now?” in Religious Humanism, Winter ’85. When he was attending divinity school, his close friend Bill died. He asked why this decent, kindly, wonderful human being had to die at so young an age after having gone through terrible agony prior to his death. Prayer did not help. Phifer left school not long afterward because the old answers would no longer do. He fled to Florida and started life all over again. He is now a humanist who says he affirms and rejoices in this existence despite the bad things that happen.

He quotes Santayana: “…everything in nature is lyrical in its ideal existence, tragic in its fate, and comic in its existence.” These words are a lode-star for Phifer in the struggle to answer the questions that accompany the bad things that happen to us.

We can handle almost anything if we know the reason for it. But often there is no explanation, at least no satisfactory one. We may jest, as Robert Frost did: “Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee\And I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.” There are no satisfactory answers to the conundrum: why would a loving deity bring such woe on its creatures? Epicurus said, “If God is all-powerful then surely God is not all-loving; if God is all-loving, then surely God is not all-powerful.”

All we can rely on in the end is human experience. The most we can honestly say is that disaster strikes randomly. The sun rises on the wicked and the good. It is probably true, as Albert Schweitzer believed, that the universe itself is flawed.

“Experience and humility advise us that there is no ‘Ultimate Meaning’ within which to shelter our woes. Whatever meaning there is in events of hardship is not so much found in them as brought out of them. We do this by understanding the measure of our responsibility for and the degree of our victimization in the harm that occurs. Only by avoiding paralyzing guilt and choking despair can we transcend disaster. Only by accepting our failures can we hope not to repeat them. One of the hard lessons of maturity is that it is we who must forge meaning out of madness, caring out of chaos, laughter and love out of loss.”

And how do we cope with what seems so utterly overwhelming. W. C. Fields was once caught by a friend on what Fields thought was his death-bed, though it was not, looking into the Bible. Since this was not a book Fields often turned to, his friend asked him what he was doing and received the response: “Looking for loopholes.” Most of us do. Our first reaction to something dreadful happening to us is to say, “This cannot be happening.” We look for a way out. The test comes when we realize there is no way out.

In dealing with the pain of grief, Phifer advises that we plunge headlong into the terribleness that is now part of our life. Don’t hold back. Don’t try to avoid it. Take it all on. Take it all in. In Eda LeShan’s words, “Make friends with anguish…Welcome each wave of pain and ride it out, with nothing holding back.” To put loss and pain behind us, we must first submerge ourselves in the depths of our anguish.

It is also necessary at times to set pain aside and live as if it did not exist. We need some moments free of the turmoil that disturbs us. We need to affirm life in its rightness even as we bear the curse of its wrongness. Sometimes we need to forget the wounds that lie open in us.

One of the things that is right with the world can be found by relating to other people. May Sarton’s “Winter Thoughts” tell us that, when hard times come to us and our greatest “temptation is to withdraw,” then, above all other times, we must keep firmly in our minds that it is when we let slip the ties between ourselves and other people that “we begin to freeze up into despair.” Norman Cousins, out of the depth of his struggle against a horrifying disease, teaches us that it is not death or suffering that is the real tragedy of life. It is depersonalization, the loss of contact with others, the absence of that human warmth that more than anything else makes life worth living. If we can renew and strengthen old ties as well as build new ones in what Schweitzer called “the fellowship of those who bear the mark of pain,” we will discover hope. Hope does not have to do with life being easier but with life being richer in meaning; it is our dream of and connection with the future. We should ask, How can I take this life-shattering trauma and make it a basis for growing?

“If we can grow in our pain,” says Phifer, “if we can learn compassion through our agony, if we can keep faith with our fellow travelers and our ideals, we will help tip the balance of existence from sadness to joy. This is the great challenge and often enough the great triumph of every human life.”