To suffer with
“I forgot where I parked my car,” she sighed, glancing at me with a worried look.
“Oh, I hate when that happens,” I responded sincerely, knowing all too well that feeling of desperate neighborhood wandering. “Good luck!”
It was an early, cloudy morning, and I was making my way home after Mass to get ready for work. I had noticed the woman—middle-aged, dressed in a suit, lugging a heavy backpack—walking ahead of me on the narrow sidewalk, then turning around confusedly and retracing her steps. There was part of me that wanted to stop and help her, as if a stranger who knew neither her nor her car (nor where she last parked it, nor what her usual parking spots are, etc.) could help. I kept walking and said a little prayer that my anonymous neighbor’s search would end soon.
It was just a simple moment, one that I may soon forget. But it’s gotten me thinking about suffering. I’ve been pondering its weightiness, its effect on me, its meaning and mystery. I marvel at the way it can entice me to turn in on myself, and also the power it has to foster compassion and love. It can be as simple as a few extra minutes in the morning to find a lost car, as profound as the sudden death of a beloved. Whatever the gravity, there’s a comfort, as well—suffering unites us all.
But somehow, despite that universality of suffering, there’s a troubling trend of self-pity I’ve been falling into lately. I’ve been finding it easier than usual to complain, to think that my life is especially hard, to turn inward and wallow. And it’s entirely self-imposed.
Happily, there’s a ready remedy to this tendency: seek other sufferers. I’ve lately had phone calls and visits with dear friends who are shouldering heavy crosses. From a spike in anxiety to prolonged desolation to a baby’s health scare, there is no shortage of pain among those I love. And it’s not that I go looking for these burdens; they simply abound. No matter the effect on each friend, whether she’s shouldering them cheerfully or finding herself nearly crushed by their weight, my compassion is always stirred, my heart starting to reach out. Despite that strangely comforting tendency of inward-looking, that invitation to come out of myself is always, always a blessed relief.
While I certainly don’t assume that my navel-gazing is a universal trend, I imagine that I’m not the only one who finds herself trapped in that slippery mindset. So, I have been reflecting on how best to share my burdens with others as well. While it’s easy to resort to venting and complaining, I’d much rather share simply and humbly, to point to ways God could be working, to ask my listening friend to give me advice and encouragement, perhaps to relate ways she’s suffered similarly.
It all comes down to compassion. To suffer together, to suffer with. Instead of letting suffering isolate us, let’s allow it to unite us. To share honestly and invite generously. To watch our broken-heartedness become a blessing for others. To remind each other that not one of us is ever alone.