Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Suffering

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Rumi

We think if we’re suffering that something is wrong. This is probably true. No one likes to suffer, but suffering is going to be part of everyone’s life. 

Some suffering is temporary. We get a cold. Our college team loses a close game in the national basketball tournament. Other suffering is the result of something we do. We get a sunburn because we didn’t apply sunblock. We drink untreated water from a mountain stream and pick up the giardia lamblia parasite that has us running for a few days. Sometimes we choose to endure suffering in order to reach a goal, like giving up time at home to work a second job so that we can take the family on a long-overdue vacation.

Suffering can be physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Other suffering is more significant and lasts longer. Good friends move away, or we lose our job. When someone we love dies, our suffering goes to a whole new level. For months we will struggle with anger, frustration, despair, and loneliness. We may think that if we had done something differently, they wouldn’t have died. This suffering will stay because we will always miss our spouse, our child, our parent, but gradually we learn to live with this loss as part of our life. 

Suffering also comes when one is seriously ill and in danger of dying. In Kate Bowler’ssituation, there is the physical pain of her medical treatments for cancer, the emotional stress of facing her mortality, and her grief over the thought that her loved ones will have to live without her in their lives.
            
‘Pain and suffering are inevitable for those with a deep heart.’ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Some suffering is deliberately caused by others. This may be a one-time event, or it may be an ongoing situation. I cannot image the despair felt by American citizens of Japanese ancestry when their own country took away their homes and businesses and locked them up in internment camps like Heart Mountain. I cannot imagine having to deal with the aftereffects of radiation from the atomic bombs in Japan, or the suffering that went on with the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Cambodia. 

I cannot imagine what it was like to be sent to a death camp during the Holocaust and watching your family sent to the gas ovens. Watching friends worked to death. Watching yourself turn into a walking skeleton because of malnutrition. Even though I lost a wife and both parents, I can’t imagine despair so great that you lose your last thread of hope. But I can get close.

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.” Kahlil Gibran

What if our country, or one of the institutions we belong to, is causing people to suffer? Even if we don’t know about it, we are still responsible when we find out because they are our representatives. They are acting for us. If we take pride in what our country does right, then we must also take responsibility for what it does wrong, and for the suffering it causes. (My thanks to Octavian Gaborfor sharing his thoughts on this, as well as on the suffering of the absurd, when people are tortured not for any reason but because other people are bored (https://taviscorner.wordpress.com). Sometimes the mighty only feel powerful when they make someone else bleed.

If we don’t confront what our people do wrong in our name, then it’s likely that these wrongs will continue because the same underlying conditions that created them still exist, and the people in power still think that this is how you deal with the problems. We cannot simply dismiss abuses as aberrations. If our country is making people suffer, we are responsible. Nothing will change until we do something. If we don’t stand up for what is right, then we have no morals.

It’s easy for us to compile a list of how our society doesn’t take care of our own people —not paying women the same as men for doing the same job, not having affordable health care like so many European countries, not funding public education, and having too many people living in poverty and hunger.

The poet Jane Kenyon said, “God does not leave us comfortless.”

Where we are broken is where we are open to a power greater than our lives. If we are suffering, we need to ask for help. Although some of our trusted friends will let us down, the compassion of others will surprise us.