The Meaning of Suffering

Katie - Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Entered on June 16, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: setbacks

Few people can even fathom it when I tell them about all I’ve been through. After all, ‘cancer’ is a terrifying word, as is ‘neurosurgery’, neither of which I fully understood until recently. However, I thought I did when I attributed it to everything else. I’ve had fourteen surgeries, witnessed seizures, slept five feet from strangers, gushed blood and thought I was a freak.

I remember being 13, my face swollen and a wrenching 1cm clawed tube draining blood from my neck as I stood barefoot in the bathroom in my hospital gown, clenching the sink until my hands shook from sobbing. My mom was in the room, talking on the phone. I could hear the creak of industrial leather as she sat in the stiff chair. “We’re so lucky Paul.” It was more of a breath than a voice, and it made me want to bust the door open and say something. Anything.

But instead I slumped against the wall, my legs sickly and almost as pale as the tile as she went on about everything we had going for us, and ten minutes later brought a soft rap of knuckles on the door. “You okay in there Kate?” I said nothing; I’m not a very good liar. Besides, it was preposterous… wasn’t it?

So I’ve spent the past few years striving to understand her point, by paying more attention to those around me in waiting rooms and watching hundreds of documentaries on subjects ranging from severe compulsive-eating disorders to facial deformities, my observations having led me to one conclusion; while ignorance may be bliss, one cannot truly live until he knows the meaning of suffering.

Whether it’s direct or indirect, suffering is a very integral part of life; one cannot fathom love until his heart’s been broken, or friendship until he has truly needed a friend. Psychologically, even primitive cultures such as those of animals, thrive on this principle. Strains on any lasting relationship, especially that with oneself, are what love and empathy are based off of. The same is true of any literary work; characters grow through conflict, for this is a theme in all societies. In the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, “He who knows no hardships will know no hardihood. He who faces no calamity will need no courage. Mysterious though it is, the characteristics in human nature which we love best grow in soil with a strong mixture of troubles.”

So in hindsight, I have no regrets about anything that has happened. Although a few years were shaved off my childhood by my own bitterness and periods of severe depression, I’ve become more capable of love and empathy than I ever would have thought possible, and for that I am grateful. Feeling weak for months and seeing my arms covered in bruises affected me profoundly, up until the point that upon my most recent return to life from surgeries, I no longer feared death, abandonment or petty high school break-ups; my experiences, riddled with turmoil as they’ve been, merely brought me closer to all the right people and my ultimate goal, to be more and love more each day.