A few years ago, as I walked down the street that I live on in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park, toward my home and my waiting family, past a row of restaurants and coffee shops with their happy and contented consumers, I spied a pair of friends and neighbors of ours. They were sitting outside a local eatery, waiting for their wood-fired oven pizza to be brought out to them. The husband sipped on his wine while his wife chatted on the phone, smiling and laughing as her conversation ensued. I stopped and stared for a second, wondering whether I should stop by and throw out a quick hello and make some small talk. I moved on; they looked busy and preoccupied, enjoying their meal, each other’s company, and the fine late summer weather. They looked, for all anyone could tell, happy and prosperous and content. Elegant glasses of white wine; outdoor seating at a not-cheap restaurant; they looked exactly like the people who were supposed to be living in my neighborhood: Brooklyn thirty-somethings, successful and intelligent, well-educated, with adequate privilege and comfort underwriting their lives.
But I was in the possession of some knowledge about my friends that complicated the sunny picture above. For a few months prior to this spotting, they had lost their only child, their daughter, a toddler scarcely two years old, killed by a piece of falling masonry from the eighth floor of a building in Manhattan. It was the worst parental nightmare of all: the loss of a young child to a freak accident, one that you could have done nothing about. It had devastated them with grief and regret and anger in ways that I could scarcely comprehend, and yet, here they were, seemingly oblivious to this fact of their own lives. They would so easily have been the targets of envy at the moment I espied them: good-looking, happy, content, well-fed, prosperous enough for leisure and good cuisine and wine, connected with friends and family, savoring life’s gustatory pleasures. Someone might have congratulated them on their good fortune: “You guys have got it all!” But they didn’t. They were like all of us, who don’t have it all.
It was time, obviously, to relearn some old lessons. We imagine all too easily, that others are happier than they are (the chief cause of our unhappiness, as Montesquieu famously said.) We wear masks all the time; we are brave, more resilient than we imagine; the surfaces that are presented to us, and that we present to others, in our daily lives and social interactions, offer the barest hint of what lurks beneath; we should never presume too much about the happiness that we find exposed to us–for it sits alongside a great deal else–anxiety, fear, grief, self-hatred–in those interiors that we have no access to. Every life when viewed from the inside, as George Orwell said, is but a series of small failures; viewed from the outside, we are prone to imagining that life as enjoying the fortunes that passed us by. The truth lies elsewhere.
9 thoughts on “The Hidden Pain Of Others”
My sister and her husband lost their adult son to a drug overdose in February. I watch as they try as best as they can to put their lives back together. It is work. Very hard work. But they carry on. Thank you for this piece.
Thank you for your kind comment. My sympathies to your family in this very difficult time for them.
Bhai – Mazaa aa gaya ! It has been a while since I read one of your pieces. Keep going ! I hope you will not hold the initial Hindi against me.
Thanks very much – and thanks for reading! I’ve not been writing very often, so this is good encouragement!
Dear Samir, I applaud your judicious and conscientious outlook on life so refreshingly intellectual and real that I venture to respond to your acutely humane blog. I fully endorse tour take on the inner life of a human being registering some failure (in stark contrast to “India Abroad” variety of triumphalism) one way or the other. However, I think our humanity consists in how we continue to cope with our grief and shine in our quotidian life by doing our bits in maintaining our existence that includes some moments of rest, jest, and some relief in earnest. I could adduce some examples from Bengali (which I am) life: the great poets and lyricists such as Rajanikanta Sen (1865-1916), Atulprasad Sen (1871-1934), Dwijendralal Roy (1863-1913), Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), and Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), who endured excruciating pangs of personal physical pain along with the emotional trauma of seeing the untimely and unkind deaths of their near and dear ones, produce some of the best pieces of their life’s work. Adversity not only oppresses us but cannot always overpower us but even makes us transcend ourselves to be more creative and positive.
Thank you very much for your kind and erudite comment. I agree entirely; our capacity to endure and overcome is astonishing, and the true artist of life and art finds a way to prosper and flourish in the face of adversity.
The hidden pain of others came up during a
random search on Google.
The simplicity of the page layout with the
readable flow of words is a style that
is rare in the vast collection of written
material on the internet
Introducing Montesquieu by providing a
Link was helpful.
Life itself is painful as Buddha says. So, all Indian systems of Philosophy sought a path to get rid of this agony.
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