How do we become wise? Is wisdom a gift, or is wisdom something practiced and acquired? Does wisdom know any age? Can a five-year-old child ever be wiser than someone who has lived 85 years?
We arrive at wisdom by recognizing suffering in others. We become wise by honoring the struggle of the human race. We are wise when we deal with our limits and expand them and cherish them. Yes, the five-year-old can be wise through the recognition of suffering while the 85-year-old, self-insulated, senior can be clueless, and unwise and unaware of the pain spinning around him.
The ancient Greek and Jewish idea of suffering survives today through a thorough and intimate knowledge of history. Nothing lasts. Nothing endures. We all love and die. To love is to lose. Fearing the Lord is wise as the “Tragic Vision” of life overwhelms and influences us:
Despite the inevitable catastrophe, the human limitation, the disproportionate suffering, the tragic vision also implies that suffering can call forth human potentialities, can clarify human capacities, and that often there is a learning process that the direct experience of suffering engenders–Lear and Phedre are transformed by it. Gloucester may think that we are to the gods as flies to wanton boys–“they kill us for their sport”–but such a conception of brutal slaughter is alien to the tragic vision. Indeed, tragedy provides a complex view of human heroism, a riddle mixed of glory and jest, nobility and irony. The madness that is wiser than sanity, the blind who see more truly than the physically sighted, are recurring metaphors for the paradox of tragedy, which shows us human situations of pitiful and fearful proportions, but also of extraordinary achievement.
As human beings, we suffer and we feel pain — and we must allow that pain to influence our work — and yet love functions in the midst of our never-ending losses. We will always lose. We love because of loss.
Human being is facing that truth.
We are doomed to a life of suffering and failure and, we can hope, the residue of wisdom will alight upon us.
The first line of Samuel Beckett’s modern masterpiece for the stage — “Waiting for Godot” — reveals this truth: “Nothing to be done.”
Wisdom is failure — but we do not have to be grim to be serious.
I am reminded of something one of my professors told me long ago: “I’m a Jew. We’re raised to remember everything.” I didn’t know if that was a statement of a faith or a reconciliation with a public, troubled, past — but through further living, I know that wisdom has come to me in the experiences of others and I know that is why I write. We write to record the truth. We write to discover and share wisdom as we recognize it.