72: Lessons in Suffering

72: Lessons in Suffering

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Lessons in Suffering

The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.

~C.C. Scott

There are rich lessons to be learned in suffering. For many, pain can open up the interior life to divine inspirations, understandings, peace and compassion. The suffering soul instinctively is drawn to like souls.

Lara and I initially met when I was a Eucharistic minister at a local hospital. She was recovering from surgery after her second bout of cancer. Her initial cancer diagnosis took place in her twenties with thyroid cancer. Now some twenty years later, she was recovering from a lobectomy for lung cancer.

After communion, Lara looked at me curiously and asked, “So what’s your story?”

It was obvious that I had a story. I understood all the medical jargon, could render practical nursing advice, yet got around with Lofstrand crutches and was dispensing communion rather than nursing care. I briefly explained that yes, I had been an RN for twenty-three years before multiple sclerosis took its toll. Now I ministered a few hours a week at the same hospital I had worked at for years.

She nodded knowingly. There was an underlying aura of peace and surrender about her. “We just do what we can,” she said softly.

A few months later, while sitting in a quiet church pew, I heard a wheeze coming from behind me. The soft noisy breathing was melodic, not labored, but had definitely been birthed from trauma.

I turned slowly around and smiled at the pale woman behind me. It was Lara.

“Beat the big C again,” she whispered before services began. “Want to go out for coffee and celebrate?”

And so began our decade-long friendship.

Lara’s calm demeanor, and her ability to live in the now, inspires courage. She has relied upon her inner strength and wisdom to weather long storms. And what she found through her suffering, she wisely passes on to her divine sisterhood through friendship, generosity and quiet listening.

“So much of life is destiny. Lessons to be learned. Obstacles to overcome,” she says. And if my tone turns bitter, referencing someone I felt has done me wrong, Lara shrugs. “It’s sad when people don’t meet our expectations,” she says simply.

I have never heard her say a mean word about anyone. “Criticism, negativity, nastiness just sap away all your positive energy,” she says. “It hurts you more than the person you are talking about.”

I know she’s right, but I haven’t evolved to the point where she is. Lara has a respect for people—her fellow women—that feminists would envy. She doesn’t need to be political about it—she lives it. Women are equals and treated with respect without jealousy, criticism, envy or judgment. She accepts where you are at, who you are with, and what you are doing.

Lara has a remarkable ability to step back from the toxicity of life. Her spirituality is forgiveness and compassion. Religious politics makes her sad, politics in general even sadder. But she tries not to dwell on society’s ills. She advises prayer, then release. Detaching from the outcome of events, she admits, took years of prayerful reflection.

“I had cancer not once, but twice, for a reason,” she sighs. “I beat it twice for a reason, too.”

I asked her what the reasons were. She shakes her head. “I’m not sure. But someday it will be clear to me.”

Nurturing herself, her husband, children and grandchildren is done more by her presence than her words. Lara speaks simply, listens deeply, and seldom argues. Occasionally she’ll give her opinion on something, but you are not bound to agree. Indeed, our friendship often lapses into periods of serenity and silence. There has never been any awkwardness about it. Silence soothes the heart.

The few disagreements we have are quickly resolved. “It’s amazing how months of chemo can put all of life into perspective,” she says. “You really get a sense of what’s important when you routinely lie in meditation while toxic chemicals run through your system.”

Radiation treatments suppressed her bone marrow for a while, slowing production of blood cells, leaving her anemic and tired. Our outings continued but became abbreviated. When my MS involved vision problems, she’d be my driver no matter how tired she was. It wasn’t discussed much. She’d just pick up the slack.

Being a cancer survivor has mellowed Lara. By her own account, suffering has made her more whole and more defined as a human being. I didn’t know her before the cancer began, but can attest to her dramatic spiritual growth and healing. And I can see how the growth and healing affect all those around her.

From life’s trauma, Lara has found the ability to quietly spread love.

~Diana M. Amadeo

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