I have come to believe that, in our lives, the small things are as important as the large ones, that the Monarch butterfly dying on the frosty late season milkweed, the heartbreak and suffering that follows the loss of relationship, and the birth of a child, when held dear, all yield meaning, creating the very fabric of our lives.
We have entered Holy Week, a time in the Christian calendar when we are reminded of the sacred nature of suffering and death, a time I find both difficult and mysterious. This week, we are reminded that suffering of all kinds is part of the human experience. Like Jesus, we must all face heartbreak, loss, betrayal, pain, hopelessness, and, ultimately, death. Do we not also seek to redeem the world through our lives, our joys and our suffering, and in so doing risk betrayal, scorn, and abandonment?
Loss has a unique capacity to grasp the heart, holding on steadfastly, sometimes defying the healing touch of time. How lasting the image of Mary standing helplessly by as her child faces unimaginable cruelty, pain, and death!
Yesterday, sitting with friends, I was reminded that the suffering of parents who lose children, whether through theft or illness, is our heritage, a momentous experience that echos through generations, shaking the very earth upon which families would stand. No wonder Mary speaks so forcefully to Indigenous communities, and to others who have faced genocide; her heartbreak is our heartbreak, before which two thousand years is but an instant.
Suffering may also bring opportunity, for when we are able to embrace our suffering, and that of our friends and loved ones, of our neighbors, and even of strangers, we may discover that our witnessing somehow redeems our lives and theirs. Yet the capacity to stand with the pain is hard won, and often, transient. Fear and revulsion in the face of illness and disability are also human experiences, physical reactions held deep in our genome, defenses against contagion that leave us vulnerable to cruelty and threaten our very humanity.
Perhaps this innate capacity to create the distant other is the source of torture, and the ancient human practice of public cruelty. I imagine seeing the victim as other gives people a momentary sense of freedom and safety, for we are, in that instant, NOT caught in the grip of terror and pain; the suffering is held firmly by the not me, by someone else.
I believe that this week, as we await Easter, and the Earth’s rebirth in spring, we are offered the opportunity to acknowledge Jesus’ humanity, to recognize his experience of suffering as both unique, and that of Everyperson, and, thus, to feel kinship with all who suffer.