Explode into Space #30 – How I Learned I Suffer for the Wrong Reasons

Dear Readers,
I thought it was noble to suffer and now I know better. Buddha may have lived it, Jesus may have died by it, I just took a trip to Austin, Texas.

I didn’t suffer through Austin. Actually, quite the opposite. Yea, the Texas Sun is hot and there is enough barbecue around every corner to choke a bull, let alone a skinny Jersey boy, but there was more to it than that. Kathy lives in Austin and it’s reason enough to stop by. Kathy and I met through mutual Jersey friends years ago and with every visit between here and there we grow closer. She is hands-down one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. So nice, in fact, I have to wonder sometimes if either she wants something, broke something of mine, or has some sneaky ulterior motive. Truth is Kathy is an anomaly. She is that nice and she is a great friend.

The funny part is the odd couple we make when we hang out. It is a battle of pleasantries and smiles. Always being the best possible host, Kathy loves to throw out possible activity ideas around the city, ask my opinion on dinner, or just pour me endless cups of water, which is a necessity in sun-baked Austin. I, on the other hand, have a problem with being comfortable. Actually, the real problem is that I like to suffer. There is a weird sense of pride within me when I can clock in overtime cleaning out attics in Jersey summer heat and bounce to jiu-jitsu practice to bruise up my shins. The air-conditioning in my car has been dead since I purchased it and all throughout my cross-country roadtrip last September. No air-conditioning in my bedroom, either. Just a giant fan blowing in my face all night. They’re all my decisions, though. I could easily quit, repair, or invest, but I’d rather just sweat and suffer and take stock in the fact that I’m surviving. It’s hard enough to suggest a Tex Mex joint or not grab a glass of agua myself.

Put us together and it is all questions and pleasant shrugs of shoulders.

In looking back at our odd stand-off of comfort, I kept thinking of Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian neurologist sent to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. His mother died. His brother died. His wife died on her way from Auschwitz to another camp. Somehow, Frankl persevered. Much more serious than anything I experience ever and in Austin.

In Frankl’s book about the experience, Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” Frankl believed he survived through the Holocaust by creating the reason he had to go on. He took heart that his story needed to be told so it would never happen again, and writing that book became his life’s saving grace and purpose.

In retrospect, my suffering doesn’t seem all that compelling. Kathy was just trying to help. And actually she did. It wasn’t the snail’s pace our tubes went, floating down the Comal River on Independence Day. It wasn’t eating delicious Indian food and then kicking back to watch the fireworks over the Congress Bridge. It wasn’t even the four straight days of air-conditioning I soaked up during the blistering days I was there. It was just one of those amazing little discoveries we had during one of those amazing late-night talks with a friend. It was just a moment and suddenly I realized I was suffering for no good reason.

Pride was the only thing going for me. And what did that mean? Why should I be proud to suffer through sweating bullets and straining muscles? I’m allowed to relax, right?
I tell you this little story to illustrate what Jonah Lehrer writes in How We Decide, that the best way to learn is to make mistakes. It is time to move on.

Don’t work hard, unless it’s a work of passion. Don’t suffer, unless you believe it’s right. Don’t live life without friends who are willing to ignore your shortcomings and force you to be a better person.

Thanks, Kathy.

Until next time…

I explode into space.

P.S. – Let’s try something new. I want to know more about you guys. You’re my readers, damnit! Did this message resonate with you? Do you suffer for no good reason sometimes? Maybe you never realized. Don’t do it to yourself. Recognize, adapt, and move on. Go ahead, say it, tell me: How do you wrongly suffer and how are you planning to fix it?

Life Examined

You really have to make yourself believe before you try and convince others. An idea just isn’t enough if it doesn’t have a foundation. They’re meant to shape the world, challenging problems and constructing dreams, and ideas mean squat without a purpose. It’s enough to actually appreciate the robotic rapid-fire of a child just learning to question the world around them. Why? Why? Why? Why do you want to move back to Brooklyn? Why did you paint your kitchen red? Why do you play video games for hours? Why do you want to spend the weekend in the park? It’s like playing the amateur therapist game on yourself. Sometimes it’s better in the mirror, sometimes it’s better writing in a journal. Either way, Socrates said it best: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We need reason before anything.