Here are two fragments of text. Each is there to comfort you if you are put off by the language of the other.
Elio Vittorini was an Italian Communist, born in Sicily in 1908. The translator Alane Salierno Mason points to Vittorini’s conception of the novel as an art form akin to music – specifically opera. Music is a medium capable of taking us past words and into a non-partisan realm. In his posthumously published novel Conversations in Sicily his protagonist starts,
“…in the grip of abstract furies….not heroic, not living…furies for all doomed humanity.”
On the spur of the moment he sets out for his home village to see his mother, whose birthday it is. This proves to be something of an Odyssey during which he is welcomed by a group of men who bemoan the fact that,
“The world is big and it is beautiful, but it has been badly wronged. Everyone suffers each for himself, but not for the world that has been wronged and so it continues to be wronged.”
These men applaud our protagonist’s suffering with a phrase that becomes a sort of chorus:
“He suffers the pain of the wronged world.”
Lighting a cigarette as he leaves his mother’s house, he remembers, and starts to weep. He walks through the village weeping and, gradually, the villagers follow him:
‘Why are you crying?’ They asked. But I had no response to give them. I wasn’t crying for any reason. Deep down I wasn’t even crying; I was remembering.
L. Violet Holdsworth
L. Violet Holdsworth, née Hodgkin, (1869-1954) was an English Quaker. Amongst her many writings is the following passage from Seas of the Moon (1940) quoted in the 1960 “Blue” version of Quaker Faith and Practice (©1969 London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends):
Perhaps [in ageing] our other powers are being taken away from us to teach us to trust more to our prayer-wings, and to pray, pray for the needs of the whole world with an urgency unknown in earlier days, when our longings were more circumscribed by our immediate horizon. We can pray now, or rather we can try to let prayer stream through us, knowing that our prayer is not ours alone…”
In Being With and Saying Goodbye I describe myself as a “moderately aggressive agnostic”. I am not someone who uses the word “prayer” – one has to somehow avoid alienating either side of the religious coin – but I am taken by the ground shared by these texts, and by the hope of a redemptive power in collective grief, compassion, expression, and the virtue of being open to the pain of the wronged world.
Here I am, then, with youthful powers gradually reducing, hoping that in some way I can contribute to a healing so much vaster than myself. I wonder if this is what Therapeutic Attitude might look like, applied beyond the individual, to a collective suffering.