I am amused at myself for writing “it’s not the suffering itself that matters, but what you do with it.” It’s a very “take charge” phrase. I am guilty of wanting to organize things, of liking, like most Americans, to feel in control of my destiny. I have spent all of my life in a quest for personal freedom and I don’t like being bossed around. It makes me wonder if suffering is that kind of thing, a condition that can be managed. Jesus’ suffering, his passion, comes from the Latin verb patior, which is passive in form as if to say, “suffering is something that happens to you, stupid.” Jesus’ suffering was not a condition to be managed, but an injury to be borne.
Endurance is about the ability to receive blows, to keep going. Five time Iditarod champion Rick Swenson talked about going forward in a snowstorm that was so harsh that he didn’t think he could face it. But he endured and when he made it through that storm he knew that he and his dogs had it in them to win the whole thousand mile plus race. St. Paul would understand the Iditarod! Rick did not ask for the storm any more than I have asked for both of my parents to flirt with their final illness at the same time. In neither case is there anything that he or I can do, but to somehow greet the day and try to keep our wits about us, in Rick’s case, making sure his dog team is fit, fed and rested; in my own, making sure that I do not forget the others who depend on me at work and church while I face the abyss of my parents’ mortaility. There is nothing I can do about my parents’ outcomes. There is, in fact, very little I can do about my own. Those who have been there will know that the prospect of losing ones parents is like being swept out to sea by a very strong current. Those who have not been there, who are still dealing with the entanglements of having parents, can sympathize, but they cannot know. I know, because as a priest I have stood beside many people losing their parents and I did not know.
It does not matter whether what I saw over the weekend is the beginning of the literal final crisis or not. Over the weekend, I entered a story that will end with the loss of my parents. I was raised by them to be skillful, adept, accomodating and gracious in the art of denial. I can deny no further.
They have given me courage to risk the store and speak my truth.