To the reader who is suffering,
I have become increasingly aware of you. Some years ago I lost a beloved, and I was told how the experience would make me more compassionate. It did not. I cared nothing for the pain of others—only for my own. I’m older now, and more experienced in the ways of suffering. I have had multi-faceted engagements with suffering, and indeed prolonged pain has given me eyes all over my body, eyes to see more of the reality of your life as well as my own.
Perhaps you lie in bed in the dead of night under the dread of having a terminal disease, and you wonder about dying and leaving those you love.
Perhaps your nearest relationships are twisted and torn with betrayal or failure or weakness, and you can’t see a future that seems whole.
Perhaps you have a chronic illness or disability, and you’re worn out from nagging pain and the constant need to say no to the opportunities and invitations that others seem to enjoy.
Perhaps a beloved is weighed down with mental darkness and depression, and every day squeezes your heart with anxiety.
Perhaps each day is a constant juggling act of trying to keep a balance in your bank account that keeps you from becoming a creditor’s prey.
Perhaps your child wanders in very dark places, and you can’t breathe with the fear.
Perhaps you are aged and weak and forgotten, just waiting for someone to need you.
We humans are wracked with pain and sorrow, suffering and perplexities, and the way forward is clouded and ominous. Some of us are the lucky ones, and our struggles at least take place in comfortable homes, on quiet streets, with full meals. Some of us are not, and I read about them in the media—clamoring for shelter and safety, desperate to provide for children, fleeing marauding forces, hauling water for daily use, sleeping in “coffin apartments.”
I walk down a city street, and I see you. Perhaps you are wearing an Armani suit, cellphone to your ear as you make your way to the next power meeting. Still, I know—you suffer. Perhaps you are homeless, and you hold your sign at the corner, and I know—you suffer. Perhaps you anesthetize yourself well—with pleasures, with entertainment, with alcohol or pot or pain meds, with shopping or cursing or gaming. Still, we groan with the pain of living, and we groan with the fear of dying.
I see you eating a hot dog alone in the Costco dining area. I read about your anguish in the newspaper. I watch you at the mall, listlessly window-shopping and watching the bustle of others.
I don’t mean to be gloomy. Even in the midst of the pain, the fragrance of the tulip trees in bloom, the wiggling butt of a puppy, the smell of rain, the warmth of the sun in the morning—these things reach us from outside our domed dismay. They are small signs on the journey, small windows into a different reality. Do you read them as such? Signs of what? Windows into what world? What will be the end of all our pain?
We are in good company while we wait for these signs to play out. And wait we must. Wait with gratitude for whatever provisions we find along the way. Wait with compassion for those around us who are suffering. Wait with generosity for those who suffer even more than we do. Wait with determination and guts and relentless grit to end what suffering can be ended, and to endure what suffering cannot be ended. In the meantime, we pray for the hastening of the Kingdom of God, where all will be rich in food and wine, where all tears will be wiped away, where the fear of death will disappear, where all the high fortifications of pompous pride will be torn down.
To the reader who is suffering from the human condition, you are not alone.