Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cheating Death and Other Things

The servant was terrified.  He had just been to the market where he had seen Death, who had gestured menacingly.  He had to leave the city immediately or he felt he would surely die.  The servant begged his master, a wealthy Persian merchant, to give him his fastest horse so that he could make his way to Samarra that very evening.  The master agreed and the servant rushed away on the horse.  When the master returned to his house he ran into Death and questioned him,

“Why did you threaten my servant?” he asked.
Death responded, “I did not threaten him. I was just surprised find him here since I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
The servant, in trying to flee from death, met his demise even faster. 
I first heard this story in the context of surviving a concentration camp. Victor Frankl asserted in A Man’s Search for Meaning, that many times being still and allowing fate to take its course had meant survival for him, while struggling against death had precipitated dying for many of his fellow prisoners.
I assert that we all do the same in innumerable ways, even if our flight is not always fatal.  We try to outrun discomfort and unhappiness and end up confronting exactly what we were trying to avoid.  We want to feel whole so we seek out a person who gives us immediate validation, but long term pain.  We seek relief from stress and worry in a bottle and end up with a permanent problem.  We have troubled relationships so we lose ourselves in our electronic devices, missing out on real relationships altogether.
I spent a lot of time putting my own problems aside in order to help other people with theirs.  It wasn’t exactly altruistic because I was doing it to avoid dealing with my own life.  I ended up feeling resentful.  I ended up with a tangled, painful mess.
What if I had confronted my own problems in the first place?  When I finally faced my obstacles head on, they evaporated.  Ok, maybe there was some discomfort involved in the beginning, but then I was free.  I was able to move on, let go of resentment, and feel grateful for the lesson.
Why wait?  I have previously established that I tend to be idealistic, but I don’t think it is quixotic to say that sometimes being still and experiencing pain is the first step toward surviving it.