I feel sympathy for your pain, but there’s nothing I can do to help


Very often, I listen to tedious stories of pain from people who want an infinite amount of sympathy and assistance.

I often want to tell these people: “You have suffered. Your life has been unjust. I feel sad. I feel sympathy. But there is not a damned thing that I can do to make anything any better, so I’m going to stop listening to you.”

I resent these people, even though their suffering is real and even though they are not to blame for their sorrows. I don’t want to listen to how bad their lives are.

One example of a person who suffered a lot, and then made me faintly resentful, is Sui Sin Far.

Here is an example of something so horrible that Sui Sin Far felt the need to chronicle it without explicit comment:

When it begins to be whispered about the place that I am not all white, some of the “sporty” people seek my acquaintance. I am small and look much younger than my years. When, however, they discover that I am a very serious and sober-minded spinster indeed, they retire quite gracefully, leaving me a few amusing reflections.

One evening a card is brought to my room. It bears the name of some naval officer. I go down to my visitor, thinking he is probably some one who, having been told that I am a reporter for the local paper, has brought me an item of news. I find him lounging in an easy chair on the veranda of the hotel—a big, blond, handsome fellow, several years younger than I.

“You are Lieutenant———?” I inquire.

He bows and laughs a little. The laugh doesn’t suit him somehow—and it doesn’t suit me, either.

“If you have anything to tell me, please tell it quickly, because I’m very busy.”

“Oh, you don’t really mean that,” he answers, with another silly and offensive laugh. “There’s always plenty of time for good times. That’s what I am here for. I saw you at the races the other day and twice at King’s House. My ship will be here for——weeks.”

“Do you wish that noted?” I ask.

“Oh, no! Why—I came just because I had an idea that you might like to know me. I would like to know you. You look such a nice little body. Say, wouldn’t you like to go for a sail this lovely night? I will tell you all about the sweet little Chinese girls I met when we were at Hong Kong. They’re not so shy!”

Now, this blond lieutenant, if his words were reported accurately, was an unforgivable scoundrel. (A forgivable scoundrel might have said, “Hey, you’re so sexy that I want to have sex with you right now, but we can get married later and I’ll be loyal to you.” Premarital sex is scoundrelly, but a realistic society has to forgive the sort of scoundrels who breed new citizens.) This lieutenant was, in effect, saying, “Hey, let’s have sex, just like I’ve had sex with other sluts, and you’ll get no loyalty from me!” Such a sentiment should have been punished by speedy execution, and I am sad that Sui Sin Far did not pull a pistol from her handbag and shoot him dead on the spot. But apparently she did not do so; she would have reported such an event. She just leaves the story hanging, and does not explain how she pushed this scum out of her life. The failure to close the story makes the reader feel bad – and presumably the writer INTENDED to make the reader feel bad.

Sui Sin Far was obviously not happy with this bastard, but she refused to explain the extent of her offended feelings. She expects me to figure out exactly how bad she felt about being propositioned by this scum.

Sui Sin Far genuinely suffered injustice. No one should have to be propositioned by filth like that. But there is not a damned thing that I can do to make it any better, so I rather resent the fact that I’ve had to waste mental energy on this event.

You can read the various sad, unjust events of her life at:

http://essays.quotidiana.org/far/leaves_mental_portfolio/

but be advised that you will probably feel bad about reading those events, and you might resent me for giving you the link.

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