The current ACT production of “The Quality of Life” offers a powerfully acted and beautifully written examination of some of today’s controversial morality issues. A character in the play, sick with end-stage cancer, chooses euthanasia. His wife, so as to not live life alone after his death, contemplates suicide. Against this backdrop and that of the death of child, there is an examination of the place of religion in people’s lives as a means to make sense out of what is horrible and senseless.
Perhaps the most essential, indeed existential, question that the play takes up is ‘How do we go on, especially in the face of suffering?’ That is the essential human question – one that we all know no matter what the causes of our suffering. In the audience the night that I saw the play must have been people battling with cancer or those who have lost loved ones to some horrible or perhaps sudden deaths. Given the current economic conditions, surely there were people who have lost jobs and may be struggling to maintain their homes. And there were probably those who have experienced the horrors of abuse in their childhoods or current forms of abuse.
The Buddha’s first truth about life is that there is suffering. And surely we all know that to be true. The Russian poet Pasternak wrote that “life is not a stroll across the fields.” But it does include strolling across the fields. It includes dramatic sunsets and, especially in this beautiful area where we live, breath-taking views of ocean and speckled lights.
We are all faced with the question “How do we go on?” It is a question that often brings people into therapy, perhaps when they have suffered some terrible loss or a series of life’s disappointments. In the next installment, I’d like to take up that question in more detail. For now, I highly recommend the ACT production. Surely one of the ways that we go on is by being moved by the transformative power of art to open our hearts and soothe our souls.