Basket of Ideas: Why not me?

Mae Stella reflects on suffering, 12.07.2012


Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos

Translated by Melissa Oliver

Suffering isn’t “my beach,” but it’s impossible to deny that this painful feeling plays a part of the existence of absolutely every human being.  Normally, when a person sees themselves as being forced to live through intense painful moments, they tend to ask superior beings the following question, “Why me, Lord?”  If these people reflected better, they would ask, “Why not me, Lord?”  Regarding this, the wise atheist Christopher Hitchens said, “In response to the silly question, ‘Why me?,’ the cosmos responds, ‘Why not?’

Candomblé, besides being an extremely light religion, doesn’t shy away from teaching its adherents that suffering is inevitable for any living being.  This ancient religion has many legends that teaches, among other things, that some of the sufferings that we experience in life are a matter of destiny, while others are experienced by choice.  In the last case, we have the following explanation:

When Orunmila, Ogun and Oxala decided to visit the ‘marketplace of suffering,’ they were advised not to go, because the trip to the market required patience and fortitude.   It was known that the person who was capable of enduring the suffering in the marketplace, and who visited the market three times would receive immeasurable treasures.

The first who tried to make the difficult trip was Orunmila.  He wrapped himself in cowry shells and when he got to the market, he kneeled next to the toll collector – whose name was Cabra – and paid the toll so he could gain access.  Orunmila did this three times and was able to get what was rightfully his.  Oxala also wanted to do the same as Orunmila, except that he was advised not to take such a difficult journey, because there was a lot of suffering in the market.  Oxala reacted, affirming, “Whomever has the patience to create as many children as I do has the patience for everything!”

And just like that, Oxala continued on to the market.  He paid [a different] toll collector, named Caracol.  Oxala did this two more times and received what he was due.  When Ogun’s time came, he received the warning that he would not be able to enter the market with his knife and staff.  Because of his temperament, and being moved by impulsiveness, Ogun entered anyway with his knife and staff hidden underneath his clothes.

Arriving at the market, Ogun encountered the toll collector Cão who charged the toll; Ogun thought it an afront to have to pay anything to Cão, his enemy/friend.  Ogun, then, used his knife to decapitate Cão.  Exu, who was the proprietor of the market, threatened Ogun so heavily that he ended up escaping into the forest.  The branches and thorns of the trees tore up Ogun’s clothes, and to protect himself he used palm fronds (mariwo) to cover his naked body.  Ogun didn’t respect the rules of the Market of Suffering; he didn’t respect the suffering, and for this he was severely punished.

Suffering has some norms that need to be accepted and followed.  Two of them are fortitude and patience.  However, the most important of all is the respect for one’s own pain and consequently, the pain of others.  I wrote this article out of necessity: a necessity of the soul; a citizen’s necessity.  Indignation is what guided me.

It’s impossible for any citizen, be they religious or not, to be quiet in the face of what happened to the choreographer Deborah Colker and her family on August 19 [2013] in a Salvador airport.  In the 21st century, when the media is always alerting us about genetic health problems, there’s no excuse for someone being discriminated against for being a carrier of of one of [these diseases], using the argument that the passengers on the plane are at risk of contagion.

Ignorance is always very bold!  For the entire Colker family, I wish strength and victory on their jouney, remembering the wisdom of an African proverb that says, “if we don’t handle the suffering that fills a basket, we won’t receive the blessings that fill a small drinking calabash.”  Young man [Colker’s relative who suffered discrimination], may your journey be enchanted and illuminated; may the stones be, one by one, [removed from your way].

Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos is the Iyalorixa of Ile Axe Opo Afonja.  Every 15 days her articles are published in A Tarde, always on Wednesdays. (Mae Stella no longer writes this column.)