Suffering is a certainty in life.
Whether we are rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, healthy or sick, fat or skinny, we will invariably suffer in this life. The degree to which we suffer is dependent on a number of factors, but perhaps the most pervasive is our relationship to our circumstances.
We all deal with adversity, though some deal with it more than others. We cannot control our circumstances, but we can control how we deal with our circumstances.
I think it is important not to take our suffering personally.
When we take our suffering personally, we compare it with others. This makes us feel as though the world is our enemy—as though other people are always moving against us. Here, our burden becomes all the more difficult to bear. I see other people as secret allies in regards to my suffering. They are helping me whether they know it or not, and this understanding has made my situation much easier to contend with.
I have been living with a severe chronic illness for the last five years. It has been horrifying, and at times has felt incredibly unfair being a man so young and having to live through this. That said, I have come to learn not to take it personally. There is nothing personal about it. This is simply my path and my burden to bear.
The intensity of my symptoms has made it virtually impossible to move through life with any kind of finesse. It drains me of my life force and scrambles my brain. I have to be in a near perpetual state of meditation to feel in any way okay about anything, otherwise the enormous weight of it all comes crumbling down upon me.
There are many people who only know suffering and death—we’re just less accustomed to seeing it in the Western world. This is a humbling fact to me. There is something to be learned from these scorched and blackened souls, for even in the darkest of places there remains some semblance of hopeful humanity.
I want to understand how to suffer with dignity. This is one of the few skills I have cultivated over the past few years; it is perhaps the only one that has been of any use to me, really.
To suffer with dignity implies not being offended by our suffering. We need not think too much about how unimaginably unfair our circumstances might be. I have seen people get upset about something someone said about them, or a stain on their new pair of pants, while I have been simultaneously in the grips of the most intense physiological agony one could imagine.
The particular unfairness of our circumstances does not matter in the least.
The only thing that matters is how we look upon our own suffering. We cannot experience meaningless suffering for long without feeling the need to commit suicide. Our suffering must have meaning. I don’t believe the human psyche can survive empty sorrow. Suffering must have a purpose, and it is up to us to decide what that purpose is.
Dostoevsky said something like, “The one thing that I dread is not to be worthy of my suffering.”
The more we suffer, the greater the purpose of that suffering must be for us to survive. Suffering becomes a privilege, in this sense. It implores us to venture most deeply into the fabric of our souls. Suffering is a tremendous responsibility. It either turns us into a monster, or calls upon the highest good within us.
I have felt like a monster at times. I felt like I wanted nothing more than to watch the world burn, but ultimately giving credence to those thoughts would lead down a very dark path—one that would likely result in my own demise. There is too much love in me to give those thoughts any power.
To suffer with dignity is to answer the call—the moral call to arms that profound sorrow evokes. This is the only redemption to be had in this life. That is the only real justice in this world.
When we step up to the plate of our own suffering, accepting our pain entirely without taking it personally, then we come to live with love. Love rests below sorrow, all we need do is allow ourselves to sink beneath and be swallowed by the eternal glow of love and light that dwells within each and every one of us.
This is what it means to be human. To love and to suffer.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Tom Pumford/Unsplash
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Yoli Rammazina