I was talking to some friends last night about my reaction to this book that I just finished and realized later that I probably misrepresented myself. I talked about how I felt calloused to the stories of suffering that comprised most of the book, but I think what I meant was that the people in those examples had already reached the 'happy' part of their stories, in which they have learned their valuable lessons and achieved their admirable goals, whereas I am still stuck in the mess of struggling through hardship.
The reality is that I have felt a strong, almost bizarre connection with the suffering of others since experiencing our struggles with Collin. When I was preparing for childbirth, I read accounts of women who, during the throes of labor, felt a supernatural connection to all of the other women throughout time who had given birth. I always smirked at these and pictured hippies and new age-y women. But then, in the days and weeks after Collin was born, I found myself thinking about women in past times or in other parts of the world who bore babies that had something wrong and they couldn't tell what and there was nothing they could do. I thought about how common it used to be for women to lose one or more of their children after birth, and though it was a fact I had known for a long time, it just made me ache. Every time I heard about another parent with a child facing some kind of health or developmental challenge, I would literally get sick with grief for them.
And then I thought about all of the sorrows out there that aren't at all similar to mine. Things I've never had to bear and hopefully never will. I've never endured abuse or neglect. I've never witnessed violence or starvation. The list of things I haven't had to see or feel is so much weightier than the burdens I'm actually carrying.
It's almost like real suffering pulls back a screen that usually hangs between us and 'unrelated' pain. The screen isn't a bad thing. It's protective and enables us to focus on things we can't when we're hurting. But pulling the screen back isn't a bad thing, either. It invites a depth of compassion that just isn't possible otherwise. It creates a vulnerability that recognizes the vulnerability of others in a new way. And instead of being overcome by all of the suffering in the world (though it is overwhelming), you gain a kind of perspective about your own suffering and how it fits in to this much bigger thing going on. Because a big, deep hurt seems to swell and swell and fill your whole world sometimes. But recognizing all of the other sorrows out there can actually move you forward, causing you to think about where you want your suffering to go, what you want it to do, how you want it to work for you and for other sufferers.
I don't know if there is necessarily anything to take away from this. I certainly don't advocate seeking out hardship in order to better understand your suffering friends, but maybe it does give some insight into what Jesus was talking about when he said "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Not that anyone wants to be beat down, hurting, or crushed in spirit. But, in the true fashion of a redeeming God, not even our worst experiences have to be just painful and nothing more. Instead, we get a potential gift -- a new way of seeing the world that is maybe closer to the way God sees it.