Marino is a professor Emeritus of philosophy and the former
Director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College.
He is the author of The Existentialist Survival Guide:
How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age. His
work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street
Journal, The Atlantic, Newsweek, the Washington
Post and the Los Angeles Times.
to join in on the Olympics of suffering, but many of us who
enjoy comparatively privileged lives, dismiss the idea that
because there are infinitely more serious grievances taking
place around the globe and even up the street, that should
not prevent us from moaning about being forced to miss a long
awaited vacation in Cancun. Until recently, I conveniently
talked myself into imagining that suffering comes in different
flavours and the various types are incommensurable; incommensurable,
“as in you can’t compare missing my long planned
vacation with the agony of a parent whose child was buried
beneath the rubble of their bombed out building.” Last
night, I learned, "Of course you can and should."
around 11 PM, I rushed my wife to the emergency room in the
city. Pains in her chest, she was short of breath and feeling
dizzy. A research scientist herself, she was profoundly aware
of the fact that heart attacks are more difficult to diagnose
in women than men.
ER was mobbed but a nurse was quick to check her vital signs,
all of which were good. Still, we were instructed to remain
in the waiting room until the frenetically busy doctor could
complete a more thorough check up.
the reassuring news, my wife was still rattled. She was thirsty
but not allowed anything but ice chips in case an operation
was necessary. Feeling cold, a nurse toted out some warm blankets
for her. When she moaned about back pain the same nurse brought
her a pillow. Soon she started begging for a room where she
could lie down and escape the hubbub of the ER. But there
were no vacancies until about 1 am. Later, when she was finally
wheeled into a room with a bed, there were more precautionary
tests including and EKG and some blood work, which would need
to go the lab before we could go anywhere.
was about 2 am and though I was keeping my mouth shut, I was
becoming increasingly irritated by the long wait. Worse yet,
woe was me, we had missed dinner and my stomach was growling.
are like bubbles and soon one floated to the surface as I
recalled a news report from the night before describing the
indescribable hellish situation in Gaza, where lack of power
rendered the operating room inoperable. There, as well as
in Darfur, Haiti and myriad other spider traps of misfortune
and inequality where medical resources were so scarce that
people expired from ailments that could have easily been treated
in the Emergency Room I was grousing about.
for a vending machine, I went out to the packed waiting room
looking for a vending machine. There I glimpsed an exhausted
looking mother frantically trying to comfort a feverish baby
thrashing around in misery.
doctors walked by without a word, I became increasingly annoyed
at the long wait. Then the image seeped to my brain of a clip
I had seen on television; it was one of a wailing two year
old in a Gaza hospital bleeding profusely from a head wound.
She had lost both parents in a bombing and was just lying
alone on the floor.
image was enough to ring the alarm, to quiet my growling belly
and belly-aching and to remind myself, “Wakeup stop
and acting like a baby. Show some patience and gratitude for
the fact that you and your wife have won the lottery and will
be cared for.”
sage of preference, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard
(1813-1855) believed there was nothing more poisonous to the
spirit than the compulsion to constantly compare yourself
to others, and to understand yourself in terms of those comparisons.
Contra Kierkegaard, I found myself in a situation in which
comparisons were not toxic, but an epiphany to the effect
that Mr. Privilege’s petty pangs could in fact be put
into useful perspective by putting them up against the suffering
of others with no trip to Cancun and no ambulance on the way
to take them to the ER.
by Gordon Marino:
Couldn't Stand Him Back Then