This is a post that was first published in my private blog in June 2008. I was prompted to dig it up thanks to attention that was recently drawn to this lovely piece of artwork — a replica of a famous piece by the Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh, that I have in my house — thanks to a trip to Amsterdam some years back. A visiting friend of mine complimented it recently, which reminded me of this blogpost I’d written a while back. I reproduce it today for the love of this piece of art, and for all the associations and sentiments that it provoked in me at that time, and still does even today. A separate post on my ‘Art’ section will be devoted to more on this piece. This is certainly a “show” that must go on. Original post follows…
To everyone who has ever claimed and believed that human suffering–in and of itself–is a virtue that strengthens the soul and what-not, I say to them: That’s a bunch of baloney! I believe that the emotions of pain and suffering are an inevitable part of the human condition and cannot be escaped; however, the sheer act of experiencing them do not in any way improve the human condition; on the contrary, they accomplish what is expected, viz. inflict misery in various ways on the mind and body. If, however, suffering is processed in a manner that allows for new windows of the mind, heart and soul to be opened from within and without, then it is, I suppose, a great teacher indeed. One that instructs with a view to making you stronger, and bigger, and bolder, and wiser. Or so, I’d like to think…
In line with this, these writings of mine are meant to serve as a sincere sounding board to myself (and to those I love), but I just learnt that my views on suffering are not original thoughts in the sense that this is not the very first time that they have been voiced. (Actually, I happen to believe that every thought one conceives is original in its own way, but more on that another time.) Regarding this concept of suffering though, Joseph Addison (1672-1719), the English essayist and poet is known to have said: “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
So, there you have it: someone of note and recognition has already said what I am thinking… and I couldn’t agree more with the list of qualities that he cites as requisites to complement the suffering in order to benefit from it. But there’s one other thing that I might add to his list: forgiveness. I believe that forgiveness is essential to the notion of taking something painful and possibly broken or even lost in human relationships, and letting it go — because only when you care for and love something so deeply can you really “let it go”, i.e., you can forgive and move on. And in doing so, you offer a gift to your offender — that disarms them, and to yourself — that provides relief. It also means that you love yourself enough to give yourself a gift. (And perhaps all that is actually essential to becoming a better you…?)
And so, in line with this concept of pain and suffering, I am reminded of crazy Vincent van Gogh, the pioneer Dutch painter in the Postmodern Impressionistic style who knew of suffering in its raw and bleeding form. Apart from his obvious genius (which became apparent only in the last two years of his life when he is known to have produced the bulk of his work), he was essentially a hopeless romantic who couldn’t come to terms with having been spurned in love not just once, but several times over which caused him to go off the deep end in more ways than one including holding his hand over a flame until he passed out, and later, going into bouts of depression and severe mental illnesses that led to the cutting off a part of his own left ear, and eventually to shooting himself to death at the age of thirty-seven!
Vincent, my man, you didn’t know how to use suffering to your own good, now did you, but you certainly used it to give the world a glimpse of your genius! And although your suffering was obviously the undoing of you, here’s hoping that it serves as a lesson for others who might find themselves in as precarious and unsettled a position as you.
This is a lovely reproduction of your ‘Irises in a Vase’ rendered in metallic paints that I picked up while in Amsterdam last summer. Thank you!