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Hard Knocks

For a lot of people, this whole “suffering and death thing” is so passé — old-fashioned and to a certain extent inappropriate for any sort of modern or sophisticated conversation. They are topics cloaked in gloom and doom, relegated to the very farthest corners of the attic of one’s existential awareness. A lot of people wouldn’t mind pretending these things are not real and that they’ll never have to deal with them. The problem with this kind of thinking is — sooner or later — it comes back to bite.

Real life is not without its ups and downs, and one’s suffering will almost certainly not come in the form of scourging, a crown of thorns or being nailed to a wooden cross. A modern dictionary defines suffering as “experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant)”. Whether it be physical, mental, emotional, within or outside of ourselves, anything that causes us to have a difficult, troublesome, annoying, irritating, miserable, hateful or dreadful incident or situation can be said to make us suffer. Think about it: in the course of a single day, I am almost certain you can come up with at least ten things that annoy or irritate you. Let’s see……

  1. Having to wake up and get out of bed when it is so much nicer to stay warm and cosy under the sheets.
  2. Having to wake someone up repeatedly because they won’t get out of bed and you know they’ll be late for school/work.
  3. Having prepared breakfast for someone who rushes out the door without eating because they don’t have time for breakfast.
  4. Dealing with rush hour traffic.
  5. Trying to merge onto another lane when other drivers don’t seem to be able to notice (or care) what you are trying to do even after you’ve put your signal light on.
  6. Having some driver tailgate you.
  7. Driving behind a very (very, very) slow driver.
  8. Having another driver cut you.
  9. Getting to your destination only to find out there is no parking spot available. Not a single one.
  10. Checking your email inbox and seeing that you need to sift through what must be 100 spam messages and/or 50 (or so….) forwarded email messages promising untold of riches if you only forward the same emails to 15 of your very closest friends.

That is, by no means, a list that comes close to even being complete — it’s only a beginning. But these little pinpricks of the day come to us and at us during many different moments of our life. How we deal with these pinpricks defines our attitude and outlook on life. If these little things that annoy, irritate and cause a bother are enough to ruin our mood or day, make us feel desperate or the situation hopeless — well what then do we do when something quite serious or major happens to us? Serious illness, financial setback, loss of a job, marriage trouble, a sudden death in the family: these are just some of the problems that can crop up without warning. If we do not or will not bear up to those little annoyances we encounter in our ordinary lives, how can we think to hold up against the challenges that a major difficulty can bring?

One of the best talks I ever heard was on how to teach our children the value of suffering. We do not want our children to grow up like marshmallows that cannot take the hard knocks that life deals them. A child that never has to deal with disappointment or failure never knows how it feels to fall or lose. Even the topic of death should not be off limits to our children because it is a part of life — their life too — that they need to come to terms with. We want our children to develop a spirit of resilience so that they will not be worn down by adversity or shun it when it comes along. We want them to know the truth and to live in it. We want them to love life but not live in fear of suffering because they know how to deal with it: by our example, by their experience and with a great deal of faith and hope.

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