You didn't even count your bullets
Funny thing about pain. We're human. We always get used to it.
A guy named Frankl did a study. Wrote a book about it. He was a concentration camp survivor. That kind of life gives your theories about pain and suffering a gravitas you can't claim to in any other way. He survived Auschwitz. One of the few. His wife died in Belsen. He never got to see her again once the Nazi's separated them. He didn't even know she was dead until after the war.
His book, "Man's Search For Meaning" was my introduction to Existentialism. Now I disagree a bit with his concept of "Existential Analysis" when I read the book I didn't know what I was to learn.
The guy who gave me the book when I was eleven years old ran a health food stand by the beach. I used to really like his tuna salad sandwich with avocado, bean sprouts and muenster cheese.
When he served me I saw a tattoo of a number on his right wrist. Being a kid I had it in my head that he was a convict and that the tattoo was his prison number. (I watched a lot of science fiction movies and tattooing people, especially prisoners, was the great sign of Big Brother and totalitarianism. According to the movies these were bad things. I agreed then and now. I haven't learned much since I was a kid I guess.)
One day I was really spent. It was a 5 foot day with the santana's blowing hard. I was a total wiggle butt surfer and even then my body was screaming to relax. That's my excuse anyway.
I asked the guy what he'd been in prison for.
He stiffened. "What do you ask me something like that for?" He had an accent but I didn't understand that. I was a kid. Everybody sounded foreign to me.
"Your tattoo. That means you were in prison, right?"
He went and made another order while I ate my sandwich. When he came back he asked me if I knew about the Nazi's. Of course I had. I had TV, I saw the movies. I watched "Hogan's Heroes". "They're the bad guys".
When he came back to clear my plate he gave me a dog eared paperback. It had a black cover. He said, "I was a prisoner but not how you mean. Read this. It will tell you things."
Comic books were the only reading I enjoyed. I stayed away from the stand for a month because I was afraid the tattooed owner would ask me if I'd read the book.
My craving for tuna salad sandwiches with avocado and muenster cheese started to overwhelm me, mainly because my mom refused to buy bean sprouts or muenster cheese. So I read the book.
"Man's Search For Meaning" is not great reading for an eleven year old. The translation keeps it simple, easy enough to read so that the horrors that the concentration camp survivors endured become more memorable than the way they coped with and survived.
I had a lot of Jewish friends. Before reading the book the only thing I knew about them and their heritage was that they got extra days off from school.
The things in that book terrified me in a way I didn't understand. This wasn't like giant monsters and death rays. This was something clinical and debased and cruel. I didn't know how people could survive the concentration camps or why'd they'd want to.
Bored at study hall in the school library I looked up "Existentialism". It lead me Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. (I think a lot of Camus talent, much less of Sartre) It didn't answer the questions. I don't know what the questions were but I knew these guys didn't have them or the answers.
In one of the books there was a quote from Raymond Chandler. It lead me to read "The Simple Art Of Murder". I thought most of it, at the time, was twaddle about books I'd never read or care about, but then I got to that classic bit, "Down these mean streets a man must go . . . " It didn't answer anything but it came closest to explaining me to myself.
I still didn't have a clue as to how people could inflict suffering like that on another but at least I knew that not grasping that insanity didn't mean I was much different from anyone else. Some would call this attitude of mine "classical stoicism," which is way too fancy for me. Call it what it is, just getting by.
The holocaust and genocide still leave me unsettled. A horror too big to grasp. I can imagine an infinite universe but I can't imagine an infinite capacity for cruelty, evil or even good. Maybe that's why I've never been famous, merely notorious.
I took the book back to the health food stand. All he said was, "I was wondering when you'd bring it back."
I was afraid to look at him. I never asked him about his experiences in the camps. He told me he'd been at Triblinka that was all. I once got close to asking him why he didn't have a skin graft and have the tattoo removed. I don't know why I didn't. Its the kind of stupid question only a kid could get away with asking, and even then only on a sunny day when the sun was making rainbows in the spindrift in the background.
When I am suffering I always remember eating tuna salad with avocado, bean sprouts and muenster cheese. Sometimes I can taste it. It doesn't make the pain go away but it makes it endurable. Even when I know the pain is only at a plateau and will never really abate again it doesn't destroy my outlook on life. The Holocaust was too severe for that little piece of knowledge.
The pain does make me crabby though. Not much I can do about that. Its what they're talking about when they talk about "fighting against leukemia," or "his struggles with diabetes." Empty words to describe an empty experience.
I'm glad I don't have to explain this kind of stuff too often especially to my little blind dog. He's got a way of dealing with these things.
He has to wear clothes to protect his skin from his own wild chewing. They make him look cute. Sometimes he gets his clothes pulled up and around him goofy.
Recently he got his clothes pulled around him so that he could only walk on three legs.
I was working in the office and heard this funny clum clumpity splat cumpity clump splat noise, over and over. My little blind dog hobbled into the office and went straight to his usual space, at my feet. He never complained or whined. He'd woken up and realized he only had three legs. He digested this and went on with his life. He woke and thought, "this is just the way life is from now on." He went looking for me cause he likes sleeping near me. Maybe he's protecting me from the darkness. I don't know. When I freed his leg he tested it and then went back to sleep.
Men are not dogs.
We should at least act as well as they do.
Too often we don't.