This I Believe:
Suffering is a Savior
My mother raised her children on simple food and complex idioms. One of those idioms is, “If you believe in something you don’t understand you suffer.” When you’re eight, suffer is a 14-letter word and the way my mother said it made it all the more ominous. She’d hiss out the s and suck it right back in so she could flick the f off the her bottom lip and she didn’t even bother with the r, “suffa”. As far as I was concerned suffering was darker than midnight blue and eerier than ghost white. I didn’t want nothing to do with it and in this world it didn’t need me or my belief. The closest I ever came to it was listening to my grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles talk about it was like living on a farm they didn’t own working for somebody else, but even in those recollections there were glimmers of gladness.
So at eight, I decided to real careful about what it was I was willing to believe in and I grew my eyes and kept a look out for the shadow of the dark cloud called suffering. As you can imagine going to church became a whole lot harder. Jesus’ experience was a testament to my thinking, and God, to me, didn’t seem that forgiving. But the people kept on praising and praying so I figured I didn’t understand and I kept my thoughts and belief to me.
Then came puberty and it turns out the Buddhists are right. All suffering is born out of desire. His name was Dennis and I wasn’t pretty enough to catch his attention and I learned that suffering doesn’t just come as a cloud. It can be a snake that slithers down your throat and finds the soft spot in your stomach a good place to coil up and sleep.
Then I went to college and probably wouldn’t have gotten there without my Aunt Elvira’s words, “That boy ain’t worth you, anyway”. The self confidence her words bred grew into me believing in me. So as long as I kept my eyes on the prize I’d be alright and if any suffering came, well that’s just life and I’d be well equip to weather its storm. Turns out, Shakespeare knew a little bit of something too. “To thy own self be true” is an important to remember too. Whitewashing one’s self or watering down your purity for the sake of fitting in a sin like no other and leads to that kind of suffering that requires a reconstruction of the soul that turns out to be a bloody mess. My second lesson about suffering, Job didn’t sit on that mound alone and God don’t always payback what’s been taken. Most times you gotta get up and go earn back what God and your kin folks readily gave you.
And then I met a husband. Sweet as sugar and as sensual as spice. We came to believe in America and therefore invested heavily in becoming American. Steady jobs and big salaries, freedom of choice, freedom to vote, nice house, big car, and 401K’s. We had everything so we might as well spread it. A baby, plump and sweet, with his eyes and cheeks to bundle up tight in my love. Nothing but pleasure came from capturing him out of the ether and it wasn’t long before he presented himself to the world from the other side of my skin. Then one night I had a dream. My mother’s grandmother told me something that I heard all my life through, “Ain’t no guarantees in this world. God don’t owe you nothing.” The next day, the ether came back to reclaim the baby we had caught and his body slipped out of mine like an anxious snake.
Now what kind of cross is that bear? What was the purpose of that degree of suffering? I hadn’t done anything to anyone. We were trying to do what God might men and women to do. I sat soaked by my own tears under the black cloud of suffering for days insisting on being left alone. But my mother called and my husband held the receiver to my ear. She said, “In the long line of those who are suffering you are sitting on a fat cushion all the way in the back. Ain’t no guarantees, not in life or of it.”
So my mother was right. I could not believe in what I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand that there are miracles reside in suffering’s dark corners. I didn’t understand that there’s ancient knowledge unlocked by the key offered by suffering’s knurly, filthy hands. I did not know that so much of me is defined by suffering’s actions. So now, this I believe: Suffering is a savior, but the greater revelation is that the creator of suffering believes in me.
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