Thursday, April 14, 2016

Horror and Insignificance

TIME had a harrowing story this week about the use of rape in war and the trauma of surviving such an attack. I really had to keep my mind from recognizing the stories as real so as not to overload my brain. It's traumatic just reading about the lives of these women and children - and the men in their lives as well. The notion that this is not only reality, but life, for so many people is just incomprehensible to me. It's beyond tears, it's genuinely incomprehensible. I can't manage to get the reality into my head enough to even have an emotional reaction. When I do react, it's predictably selfish - although not entirely so.

I experienced something I first mistook for guilt. It's easy to see how guilt at the relative ease of life in the West compared to rape and hunger and war and abandonment makes sense - but it really wasn't guilt. It was more a sadness - yes, sad for these people, but as I said the emotions didn't really get through - it was a sadness at the realization that my life will provide me with only the narrowest picture of the human experience. Even the most adventurous and well-traveled among us will barely scrape the surface of what it means to be human - for good and for ill.

It's not just the horror of child rape as a weapon of war, but the whole gamut of emotions and experiences that will just never be an option for me. I guess this is sort of like someone staring at the night sky, depressed about their own insignificance. We (or at least me) like to cling to the illusion that I'm a "normal" or "average" person - at the very least "representative." I want to believe that my life is, give or take a few particulars, just about like everyone else's life. That's simply not true.

I wonder if this is why individualism is so attractive, because it makes us completely representative, because there is nothing "real" outside ourselves. We can never be insignificant, unless we choose to be. We can never be below average or strange unless we choose to be. It's a far cry from understanding ourselves as but incomplete portions of the larger whole. As a human, I am barely discernible compared to the grand scheme. Theologically I might argue I'm completely complementary to the whole of creation - there is no such thing as an individual human any more than there is an individual cell. Yes, they can be delineated and even survive on their own, but that existence is nothing, really, compared the the beauty and complexity of the society in which they reside.

I still can't get my head around rape as a weapon of war and the dehumanizing that precedes it. This is one of those horrors that seems beyond comprehension, let along solution. We Christians like to put these most difficult ones on God - "you take care of that, because I just can't deal with it." As real as that inability to deal is, it's also a little cop out.

But the cop out has two sides. In one sense, it helps to preserve the illusion that we matter - again, I'm not saying that individuals don't matter; they do, but not in the way we like to pretend. It makes us think we can solve our own problems, that just maybe if we get some of the smaller ones figured out, we can work up to the real horrors.

On the other hand, it just lets us draw a comfortable line between the possible and the impossible. We can put that line wherever we choose and convince ourselves that there's nothing we can do about it - that the line exists outside ourselves.

I don't know what to do with this. There's no conclusion here. I've just been thinking about it a lot - and hopefully it will change the way I approach hope and the world itself. Ultimately, it help me internalize the notion that we're not in control - human selfishness and greed have set free the kind of pain and horror we cannot easily rewind. To think otherwise is really just fooling ourselves.

No comments: