Sunday, December 18, 2011


My mother often used to say, speaking about people who were suffering in some way, that they were “poor things”, but I’ve slowly come to see them as lucky things. I don’t mean to suggest that suffering is some kind of satisfying or innocuous experience, just that it can bring the gift of greater resilience and wisdom to a person. When we suffer, it is possible to see, if we’re fortunate enough, the farther distances of kindness, the vast spaciousness of friendship, the open wonders of tenderness. Through suffering, we can sometimes be shown how breathtaking our bravery really is. I once knew a man who seemed almost pleased that he was given the sickness called rheumatoid arthritis. He seemed to celebrate his illness, as if it was a bestowal from the universe that gave him great powers of kindness and courage. He made merry in his ability to be stronger than his sickness. When we visited him, he smiled from his sickbed as though his suffering was simply an excuse to praise the surprises that life offers. In no way was he “poor Mr. Euler”, for his illness had made him, in his mind, the luckiest man alive. Does this mean we should praise suffering, or give it a warm welcome? Of course not, but it might mean that we should make room for the miracles it brings – for the courage it can carry in its gnarled arms, for the sweetness it sometimes brings in its hands as hard as swollen bones.

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