“TRY SPENDING 6 YEARS IN A DEATH CAMP.” Clipping from a copy of the National Post found in a McDonald’s. Original photo credit: Chis Mikula

The Relativity of our Experiences

The pain we will never know

The above photo is from the recent National Post article, Senator Brazeau’s Darkest Hour. It tells the story of a young man from a good family who struggles to fit in because of his mixed race and the impact it had on him growing up. It details his transition into politics, fraud and assault allegations and an interrupted suicide attempt. The kind of story that, sadly, we’re becoming all too familiar with.

It’s an honest account of a man, who happens to be a public figure, and his attempt to move on after considerable emotional turmoil. Yet on a photo where he appears to be his most vulnerable, an anonymous scrawl offers a more critical perspective, “TRY SPENDING 6 YEARS IN A NAZI DEATH CAMP.”

If this were an anonymous post on some website, we’d simply cry ‘troll!’ and collectively criticize the commenter with all of our better judgement. But I found this newspaper at a McDonald’s in the West Broadway area of Kitsilano in Vancouver, Canada. The neighbourhood is important because anyone who has spent enough time there will know there is a thriving community of older Europeans immigrants that congregate at local cafés, Greek deli’s and sandwich shops. The reason that’s important is because it puts a lot more potential gravity into the message.

Given the context of where the paper was found and the people who frequent the restaurant, we can presume the message was either written by someone who has survived six years in a death camp, has known someone who has, or was greatly affected by the war and felt it necessary to express their disdain for such a disrespectful lack of perspective.

Either way, it would be no stretch to imagine that someone with those experiences or views might be put off by reading about an affluent young model-turned-politician-turned-alleged criminal battling his inner demons.

We have to be careful not to add our own meaning to something like this, but again, within the context, it would not be out of line to read this as someone stating that the struggles listed in the article are insignificant when compared to the experiences of the assumed commenter.

But pain is not measured in that way, and the severity of anguish that we feel is relative to our own experiences.

It should be said that whoever did write the note, has probably lived through some of the most trying times in modern history and their suffering and sacrifice should be recognized and honoured. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately would be more appropriate), Sen. Brazeau has not lived through such an ordeal, or anything that could be considered comparable on a 1:1 scale. But pain is not measured in that way, and the severity of anguish that we feel is relative to our own experiences. Brazeau’s scale of pain is based on not being accepted by his peers as a young man trying to find his way through adulthood without a strong father figure. The loneliness and isolation brought on by substance abuse and constant surveillance that comes with being a public servant.

He has not been to war, has not been forced in to labour camps with no hope of survival while his friends and comrades perish all around him. There’s no way he would be able to draw on the experiences of another generation. How could he know that pain?

I am in no way attempting to diminish the sacrifices of those who fought and died to give future generations a chance to live without that same fear. But perhaps the suffering of previous generations that have afforded us that luxury has also opened the door for newer, unexplored versions of personal pain and anguish that we are only now beginning to understand.

Though from different eras and forged under different circumstances, we can say for certain that both individuals are survivors. They will have to live with their own versions of fear and regret for as long as time and purpose will allow, and each should be given some measure of sympathy — as should all who suffer. For we can only know the pain that we endure and should not be measured against the lives of others for our worth.

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