Reflection: Powerless in the midst of horror

My real name should be Sisyphus. I’m the one who must try to lift this rock to top of the hill, but just when I am almost there the rock slips down to the bottom again, so I must start over, and over, and over. Dear reader, I am devastated inside myself. All that ‘intelligent’ stuff in response to the perennial challenge What’s it all about? – words, words, words. Each word is a rock, and I am doomed to pile one on another, to pile word upon word, to make sense of the terrible thing that has just happened in Turkey and Syria, and is still going on. I just can’t do it. I am Sisyphus.

What do I mean? Maybe I should advise you to stop reading right here, if you haven’t done so already. I have been in 2019 bathed in a pond, a pool, of cosmic love, having till then (81 years) lived a pretty loveless life. Until this very moment I am awash in that new awareness of love. Until this very moment. Right now, none of it makes sense at all. I am devastated.

But I am Sisyphus, and I am compelled to start over, to pile word upon word, in an attempt to make sense, to myself as well as to you, of this dreadful calamity.

I have a vivid imagination, and I can personalise the horror that the cameras in those places have beamed to us. I have experienced earthquakes in north India many times. We grew blasé, casual, about them – they were merely tremors. Now and then a cracked wall, a sliding cupboard, fear, crowds in the street – but that was it. Today’s -? Ah, ye gods, what have you been up to?

You are asleep beside whoever – spouse, children – and suddenly one of you shakes the other, the place is shuddering, alarm, someone among you screams “Get out! Get out!” Sounds of buildings falling outside – you grab whoever you are with – and somehow get yourselves to the door. And then I stop.

Dear reader, I am not writing a novel. I just can’t keep writing at all. I visualise – the doorstep tilts, and you, screaming, topple into the hole where yesterday there was a floor and a passage. The horror is indescribable. There is screaming, grabbing, chunks of concrete falling below you, with you, behind/above you, and you are utterly helpless. And suddenly you thud against a chunk of rubble. If you are still conscious, you hardly notice that your leg is smashed, you are looking for your daughter, your son, your spouse, and then more rocks crash into your space, and you are still conscious, but in total darkness. Now you notice that your leg is smashed, and the pain is terrible, but you are pinned among great chunks of masonry, and your screams are unheard. Well, maybe. That other woman who was beside you five seconds ago, she is screaming too, but where she is right now you have no idea. There is no longer any ”where”. A baby cries out “Mummy!” but it has no locale, it is just a noise. The noise of desperation, of utter meaninglessness. And I, who am stacking these terrible words one on another, am myself nothinged. All that stays with me is, this is true, even as I type, even as you read. It is going on.

Many years ago, in Kolkata I was standing at the foot of a hospital bed beside a man whose only son was dying in that bed. Suddenly he cried out, “People like you are supposed to be able to do something about this!” All I could do was cry.

Today’s situation is even worse. That was a single death. This is death on a vast scale, no one able to do anything. Not just death of course. Pain, bewildering pain, loss of everything related to life, horror, locked between boulders within that mountain of stone, people scrabbling helplessly to find a way out, and others finding corpses, or living mangled bodies, freezing helplessly in darkness.

I can’t go on. I am Sisyphus. Where does God come into this?


PS: I have just parcelled all my unlikely-to-be-needed clothes to be sent to Turkey-Syria tomorrow where, among other horrors, people are dying.

Brother Mac (Brendan MacCarthaigh)


3 thoughts on “Reflection: Powerless in the midst of horror

  1. Lorraine Parkinson

    Brother Mac, join the millions of others focussed with love on the suffering of the people of Turkiye and Syria following the earth’s shifting. It is one thing to feel their suffering and another to ask where is God. The planet’s volatile surface has always been the cause of shaking and destruction of humanity‘‘s flimsy constructions. Earthquakes have always happened and will always happen. Where is God? In the hearts and hands of every determined rescuer risking his own death. In volunteers on the spot bringing blankets and food and shelters and medical aid. In people all around the world gathering resources to send or donating money to aid agencies so those things can be bought. No one can prevent earthquakes. They are part of the essential nature of our earthly home. No amount of prayer will stop them. But empathy such as yours, Brother Mac, and practical aid will take the God of love into the darkest and most hopeless places.

  2. Janet Dawson

    Dear brother,
    I share your cry.
    I need a crucified God who suffers the terrible burden of our fragile, fleeting mortality. For me, if God is anywhere, God is everywhere, including the stifling cold death under the rubble. When you go there in love, imagination and horror, God is there, too.
    Let your words go, and just weep.

  3. Bev Floyd

    Some have vivid imaginations.
    It is a gift, a talent. They are blessed but also suffer.
    Some think more coolly. That is their talent… their blessing and their weakness, if you like.
    So… what is this world about? From where I see things, it is a terrifying adventure of faith.
    From Big Bang to Homo sapiens to…??? we do not yet know.
    Built into the first atom were immutable physical laws.
    There appears to be no escape… and from a physical point of view that is true. So is there more?
    That is where hope and faith are necessary. Do we, in spite of everything, say YES to life and the future? That is the question.

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