I always write about ’embracing suffering’, but it is obviously something we have to learn how to do. I will admit that often I don’t know exactly what it looks like.
I had a rare (especially lately) moment of clarity over Thanksgiving weekend that I wanted to share.
I haven’t written much about my childhood, but I will briefly say that it was pretty special. My dad is one of four boys, his mother is one of four girls, and we always had a house full of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins… no one ventured too far from the family compound. If I wasn’t at my house, I was ‘up the hill and around the corner’ at my grandparents, either working a puzzle in the kitchen with Nana or doing physics experiments in the shop with Poppy.
I wasn’t naive enough to think that life was perfect for our clan (don’t worry, family- I am not about to throw out any skeletons!), but I certainly thought that the beauty around me was in the perfection. That ‘wonderful’ was an appropriate adjective for our lives only because everyone was healthy, happy and successful.
Until recently, I still felt that way.
When I looked at my own life, what jumped out at me was Virginia and her suffering. It was the piece of the puzzle that didn’t fit, at least not as seamlessly as the other pieces. It was where my life changed course, got off track. To put it bluntly, it was the part of my life that couldn’t be summed up with the adjective ‘wonderful.’ (and obviously I am talking about what happened to Virginia, not Virginia herself.)
As we all gathered at my parents’ house this Thanksgiving, there was more visible suffering than there has been in the past. I now know more physics equations than Poppy does, and we had to make room for three wheelchairs around the table. As Dad asked the blessing, he prayed especially ‘for all those who are suffering.’ Foremost in all of our minds was my uncle who is in the midst of radiation treatment for cancer, but when I looked around the room of at least thirty people, I realized that Dad’s description included each of us. Every single person in attendance was dealing with their own shattered dreams.
Suffering isn’t the unexpected detour I used to think it was. It is woven throughout this entire journey.
And, quite miraculously, suffering is what makes this journey so beautiful.
I realized last Thursday that it is wrong for me to put the events of my life into two categories- before Virginia was hurt and after Virginia was hurt. The true delineations of joy and suffering are much more complex.
Obviously I would erase what happened to Virginia if I could, but ’embracing suffering’ means beginning to see it as an integral part of the larger picture. Pain is not a brief interloper, coming in moments of tragedy to steal the beauty from life. If you open your eyes, suffering actually magnifies life’s beauty in a way nothing else can.
Our Thanksgiving table wasn’t beautiful because our family is perfect. It was beautiful because our family is imperfect.