Somebody once told me that there are no victims, only volunteers. I believe this to be true, but in a roundabout way. The roundabout way being that if you are a victim of something, you will inevitably become a perpetrator of a similar offense, and if you are a perpetrator, you will inevitably become a victim of a similar offense, or at least feel an equivalent suffering. Perpetration or victim-hood, it matters not which comes first. Our only concern should be how quickly we can move through these phases, how quickly we can break free from those karmic chains, for the gateway to love lies beyond perpetration and victim-hood. Both of which we are volunteers.
I have just finished reading “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” by Dostoevsky. In this short story, he writes of his descent into the pits of nihilism. A pit that goes so deep that he insists that he is going to shoot himself. However, on the 3rd of November, a little girl tugging at his elbow in despair over her mother, apparently in some type of jeopardy, had prevented him from doing so. Although Dostoevsky behaved so coldly to the little girl, brushing her pleas off as if they were a house fly, she kept him up all night. Why was he so troubled or concerned about this little girl when just hours ago he was convinced that nothing matters? Everything had so little meaning to him that he was going to end it all, yet here he was lying wake without the courage to do it because of an 8-year-old girl; an 8-year-old girl who was suffering, truly suffering, and who at that age should not know that kind of suffering. I won’t spoil all the details for you, but a dream brings Dostoevsky to the realization that he loved. He loved because he saw that little girl’s suffering.
The story of Dostoevsky’s interaction with that little girl reminded me of a story of my own. As if it were yesterday, I can remember waiting to be picked up at an elementary school after hockey practice. There was a kid outside, I presume to be waiting for a ride as well, playing with a tennis ball by his lonesome. Out came a group of about seven kids, who stole the tennis ball, and laughingly ran away with it. From there, the kid went in and told his teacher about the incident, who came outside with him in an attempt to track the boys down. This kid was rather hysterical as he was walking with the teacher, and I remember him saying something to the effect of, “my grandfather gave me that tennis ball!” Admittedly, this tattle-tale behavior is somewhat cringe, but how gut-wrenching it was for me to hear that. It is almost as if I was invisible in the parking lot watching this interaction take place; like I was strategically placed there to witness it. To this day, I have always wondered if the kid ever retrieved the tennis ball given to him by his grandfather. I’ll never know. What I am saying is that I understand how that little girl kept Dostoevsky up, and that I think I am beginning to understand his following quote: “To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise.”
I’ve stolen a few metaphorical tennis balls in my day. I know for a fact I’ve stolen at least one. What that means is that in order for me to be released from the trap of the stolen tennis ball is that I need to get my tennis ball jacked just the same. What is hell? A definition of hell might be, “you cannot escape.” If nobody steals my tennis ball, or I do not feel the equivalent pain of getting my tennis ball stolen, I cannot escape; therefore, I would remain in hell. It’s something like Rule 24: “Be grateful in spite of your suffering.” That suffering is a gift; it is the only way out. Of course, it is difficult to perceive suffering this way when you are in the midst of it, but anybody with a conscience would have to agree in some capacity.
This is a more unfortunate example than a stolen tennis ball and although we are looking at love with a wider lens, we tend to think of love in the context of a relationship, and I’ll use that context here. I was far from a saint in my last relationship. I’ll spare you all the details for now, but all that matters is that I inflicted a lot of emotional pain upon her. Alcohol was my master then, yes, but I accept full responsibility for my actions. With this acceptance, with having a conscience, this means that I have to accept that one day I will have to endure an equal amount of suffering akin to the suffering I inflicted. Recently, I believe I came face to face with this reality. No, I’m not necessarily suggesting that the suffering is exactly equal, but for whatever it is worth, I’ve written some pretty emo-poetry over it. That’s definitely something, and definitely not nothing. For the first time in two and a half years, I saw her. As always, she looked beautiful. Judging by her pictures on social media, it appears that she has moved on, and when I saw her, it felt like I had been stabbed. Repeatedly. For weeks and counting. The consequences of my actions rear their ugly head yet again, but I have been given a gift through this suffering. A gift of the way out. Thank God for that. Otherwise, there would be no escape, and to be unable to escape is to be in hell.
How does one know they love? Through the despair of an 8-year-old-girl, through a kid getting his tennis ball stolen, through being a pretty wretched human being throughout a six-year relationship. As Dostoevsky said, one cannot love otherwise. Jesus wept over the misery of man. We were made in His image, and it is the same with us. To love is to suffer; to not love is to suffer, but in order for suffering to cease, one must love, which is to suffer. Something like that. Just give the kid his fucking tennis ball back.
The Trap of the Stolen Tennis Ball.