Being a medical transcriptionist is sort of like coming across the last chapter in a novel. Because I do reports for a large hospital in the Midwest, every day I listen to one story after another of lives gone awry.
There was the teenage girl who lost an arm this July 4 when an errant firecracker exploded on her.
The woman who thought she was turning into a flying insect and jumped off her roof.
The woman who was beaten so badly by her ‘boyfriend’ he crushed one side of her skull.
And who can forget the guy who went out on his motorcycle wearing nothing but shorts and lost almost all the skin on his backside when he hit a car and was dragged?
Sometimes the injuries are self-inflicted, like the women who get dumped by ‘Mr. See Ya Later’ and decide to show him up by threatening suicide.
It’s usually starts with a bottle of Tylenol PM and ends with a call to 9-1-1 crying they didn’t mean to do it. Death by drama, I guess.
I often wonder how many of these people become overnight philosophers because they have experienced real trauma, maybe for the first time.
There are no doubt many sleepless nights filled with questions of “Why me?” and “What did I do to deserve this?”
There is a whole portion of philosophy devoted to the question of suffering and evil in the world. It’s called theodicy, which is Greek for god + justice.
People through the ages have wondered why bad things happen. Seneca, a first-century Spanish-Roman lawyer and orator, wrote a long letter on Providence to a friend, and it sounds like something a modern Christian or Jewish author would write.
We always want the miracle. We always want to think there is a reason stuff happens, so we can say, “Well, sure, it’s terrible, but I (or God) can turn it to good.”
Seneca says, in his man-up way, “Scorn poverty: no one is as poor as he was at birth. Scorn pain: either it will go away or you will. Scorn death: either it finishes you or transforms you. Scorn fortune: I have given her no weapon with which to strike your soul.”
Romans were tough that way. He sounds like a Hemingway character, and we all know how they tend to end up.
In the Gospels there are stories of Jesus and the disciples performing miracles to undo the suffering of the people around them. They cure leprosy, blindness, gynecological bleeding, and even death.
We all know the stories of Lazarus and the centurion’s daughter being brought back to life. We don’t see too much of that anymore. Only a very few forego chemotherapy or surgery for prayer in modern times.
There is a little story, though, that is well known to Buddhists and shows the realistic, down-to-earth perspective of Buddhism.
Once upon a time, a woman came to the Buddha because her son was dead and she wanted the Buddha to restore him to life. He agreed and said he would do as she wished if she could bring him a mustard seed.
The woman was thrilled that the Buddha was going to do this miracle for her and did not care that there was one provision – the mustard seed had to come from a home that had not known death.
She went from door to door, village to village, searching for a home that had not known death, but all she found were people who had lost parents, children, grandparents, servants and friends.
The mother then realized that life is temporary and everyone must face death and suffering.
When she returned to the Buddha he told her, “You thought that you alone had lost a son; the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no permanence.”
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