My fingers, scalded the day my mother Marion died, have almost totally healed now. With a little help from an aloe vera plant, the sting is gone. What a miracle is the power of the human body to regenerate tissue. What a miracle is the body’s capacity to heal. And what an impossible question it is to ask about the limits of that capacity.
It is THE question about god’s power – about god’s purpose as the master behind the design. Why suffering?
I don’t know. I have many ideas and perhaps a few answers. But they are all full of holes. My mother’s physical suffering has shown me many powerful lessons – and perhaps one that is a keeper.
To get an idea of the suffering my mother experienced, I need to take you back to 1978. Can you remember where you were in the late seventies? Now, think about everything you’ve done since then. Now, think about doing all those things with a searing hot knife of pain in your spine.
In the fall of 1978 was returning from a midnight shift at the Johns Manville plant in Scarbro. Walking down our street from the bus stop, I spied the ambulance in our driveway. I began to run.
Hurrying to get a load of laundry in before she needed to head off to lead her kindergarten class – she’d slipped and fell down the basement stairs. Her back was broken.
Here’s a few of the things I’ve learned:
Suffering has many faces.
Thank God for narcotics.
Modern surgery techniques are incredible.
Watching a loved one suffer can be incredibly tough.
Suffering is a poverty.
a poverty of peace
suffering robs the breath
suffering wounds the will
suffering is deaf to the trivial
suffering blinds us to tomorrow and causes us to live every moment of each hour when sleep evades, muscles clench, heart races, head roars and so - every moment we must learn to live from a deeper place than pain.
Suffering is a great teacher.
Now that statement is full of holes that I’m not going to try to plug today.
What my mother’s living taught me is that while suffering can change and affect everything. That no one is immune to it. That it is inescapable. There is one thing more powerful.
My mother’s love of life was more powerful than her pain. Time after time after time, I saw her push through her pain, rise from her bed, and armed with only one thing – her willpower – plunge into her day.
Just like she pushed me into this world through her pain - the life force pushing past the limits of what we imagine endurable - Marion gave birth to the love of life each day.
It seems to me that nothing could keep her from participating in the give and take of life. She had bad days. She had many many discouraging setbacks and failed treatments and failed prayers. Her life got smaller and smaller as she aged and the complications of years of narcotics use multiplied her ailments. But all who know her, or even just met her, know how she pushed all of that aside. She was present, uncomplaining, smiling, gracious, and always interested in your wellbeing.
Suffering can overcome the lifeforce within us. Suffering can quell the love of life. Suffering always seems to win in the end. But in its midst, there exists a love that pulls us from the depths and keeps us asking “what’s for dinner?” Just as the darker the night gets the brighter the stars shine, my mother’s kind of love persists, finds a way, is a guide for those who follow.
Rooted in the earth’s knowing of what it is to be alive. To thrive is to live - is to suffer - is to love, to sing, to break new paths into each day’s forest of choices, chores, and, and, and, who knows what’s next?
She showed me to not let anything stand in the way of my love. To pursue what I love and to love what life brings, to savour the stars, the moon, the sun’s arrival and departing rays.
She showed me what it is to find humour in every thing and in every situation. She showed me that to laugh at life’s darkest moments is to defeat the devil. The devil tells us of a hell that lies at the heart of suffering. But hell’s gate is the fear of suffering. Whenever we run from suffering (which I do all the time) it is fear that guides us and not love.
When we turn towards suffering, we find instead - the mystics say - we find Christ at the heart of suffering. That is, we find a capacity for love that is greater than the sum of our fears, weaknesses, doubts. What a mystery it is that at the heart of the worst life offers, there is a gift, a discovery, a grace more powerful still.