The poet W.H. Auden said about suffering: it takes place while someone is eating or just walking dully along or doing a Pump class. (I added the last bit.) It was in the chest track.

The song was Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns N' Roses and I couldn't stop crying. It was okay because everyone else would have thought I was howling because I put too much weight on my bar.

But it wasn't that. It was that photo. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I know we have a responsibility to bear witness to others' pain and not avert our eyes from others' suffering. But if you have a tendency to rumination, when you see such a searingly painful image, 2-year-old Aylan Kurdis' tiny body washed ashore, you can't unsee it.

I couldn't stop crying. Although I know crying doesn't signify any depth of emotion. The elder Mitford sisters used to manage to make their youngest sister, Deborah, cry about a poor little match which was sad because it was left out of the box of matches, all snuggled up nice and dry with their other match friends. "Poor, lonely match." Waahhh! See?


Being a sentimental drip isn't helping anyone. Personally, I am a little envious of the people who can feel better about their deep sorrow by being shouty at John Key.

If only John Key would do something to take all the pain away in the world. On some level these people must realise John Key is not solely responsible for all the torment and cruelty in the world, but how soothing to hand over such immense power to him.

Yes, please, can we at least double our refugee intake? But the nature of suffering - happening right now while someone is opening a window or writing yet another column - means it is everywhere.

Please, let's take more refugees from Syria. But I can't help but think: what about all the other refugees? What about the refugees from non-headline-getting countries who desperately want a better life?

The children on Nauru? Should we be helping only the Syrian people? And then my mind, a perverse, brakeless steamroller, heads towards all the children who are suffering in poverty in New Zealand. What about the children leading unremarkably sad lives in this country? Why aren't we doing more about them? Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable but goes on for years without anyone noticing.

The deep hopelessness of human suffering seems overwhelming. Hey, I know! Lets talk about the flag instead!

Actually, let's not. The genius educationist Ken Robinson (his Ted talk has been watched 35 million times) recounts the story of a little girl on a beach who comes across thousands of starfish which have been washed up and are dying.

She picks up one starfish and walks 100m down to the sea and plops it back in the sea. An adult seeing her coming back to save another one says gently: "You're never going to be able to save them all. It would take you weeks. You can't make any difference."


The little girl plops another one back in the sea. "I made a difference to that one."

I believe the starfish story is the only way to think about the immense amounts of pain and suffering in the world. Even if the things you do - like Wodehouse's Edwin the annoying Boy Scout - are pretty pathetic or not even well-received.

The only way you can carry on is just to look at your one-inch-square bit of the world and try to make it a kinder one-inch-square bit of the world.

To the extra refugees we take, we will have made a difference.

To quote the wisdom of Pink: You've gotta get up and try and try and try.