The web is awash with photos of suffering and pain scrawled on the faces of people in Haiti. Recently an earthquake shook the country to its foundation. Once the dust settled and the destruction could be seen the citizens of this small third-world country began the near futile effort of searching for lost friends and family members among the rubble. A man; his face covered in blood and dust, searches for a wife and child that he will likely never see again. Bodies line the streets, amputations are performed with only local anesthesia and infections are nearly as deadly as disease. This is the home of suffering and illness and there is always room at the table.
We all have some level of understanding of suffering. It is the slow pain that sinks in and becomes a part of us. Suffering changes who we are. It breaks us down and we stay broken. We do our best to get back to where we were before but close is still immeasurably far away. That’s not necessarily always a bad thing. My first real taste of suffering was served by a hand bearing a symbol of commitment. I knew the meaning of trust and she taught me the meaning of betrayal. Through the suffering I learned about myself. I learned that what we had together did not, in reality, measure up to my expectations and understanding. This was a good thing, in the end, because I found someone who did measure up.
The sour taste of illness lingers in the mouths of all of us who have lost a loved one to disease or who have, ourselves, been overcome by an illness of our own. I have managed to cover over suffering and illness in my mind. Some scrapes take longer than others to scab over but eventually my brain wraps them up and tucks them away in a safe hiding place. Just over a year ago my father lost a short battle with cancer. We both died that day.
Over the last thirteen months I have experienced suffering and illness that have brought me to my knees more than once. But what do I really know of either?
As bad as things may have seemed at any one point in my life I know that they could always be worse. Often we forget to be thankful for what we have and only focus on our woes. I have lost loved ones. I have been ill. I have even thought, once or twice, that my time was about to expire. All of those moments that bring me down make me realize that I truly don’t know the real meaning of suffering. I haven’t had a real dose of illness. The faces of people who are less fortunate than me, rejoicing in the fact that they still have life, remind me that I am never alone in my suffering.
Woe is not me.