There is no solid answer to the question of why people suffer. I cannot pretend to understand the motive or the pretense behind suffering. Even after studying theology, I have no inkling as to why people must suffer. I can only tell my account of suffering in a hope to dispel the myth that it only comes in one shape or form. My most memorable experience with suffering was in a one bedroom sublet in the summer of 2006. This was two years before I would start a graduate program in religion at Yale and while I was finishing up a graduate program in education at Boston College. I enrolled in the course “Civil Rights History and Protest” for the summer of 2006 and I was determined to make this educational experience worthwhile.
That summer was one of the thorniest of my life and there are days when I try to compare it to other challenging seasons when I realize that it was in a class by itself. There was a moment during that summer when physical pain met pure exhaustion head first. Taylor was born deaf and diagnosed with autism at age four. The past seven years had been an uphill battle for me as I parented her. As a single parent, I had the task of completing double the work with half the manpower. During that summer, Taylor slept only three hours a night. I was attempting to get some sleep on the modest air mattress that served as our only piece of tangible furniture when Taylor fell backwards and our heads collided. It created the most excruciating pain. Taylor seemed unmoved by the incident because lack of empathy and sensory issues are two common traits of children with autism.
For me, the pain was overwhelming and all I could do was cry. That was the bottom for me. I had nothing left. This was a culminating event to the other difficult experiences that plagued us that summer. I did not own a laptop at the time, which meant every other night I walked ten blocks to the computer lab while pushing Taylor in her red stroller. My babysitter was mediocre at best, and I felt that though Taylor was safe while I attended class, she was bored and there was a definite language barrier. As I laid there in pain, tears flowing, I wondered what I was doing there, at Yale, in New Haven with no family and friends.
At that moment I could not answer that question because I was suffering deeply. At this point the suffering was not just emotional, but physical and I thought I would die right there on that air mattress and no one would know that I was there. In fact, for many days and nights over the past seven years, all I had been able to do was cry and ask the simple question, “Why must I suffer so much?”
If I ask my Christian friends, they would say it is because of the “fall.” Because Adam ate that damn piece of fruit, an apple or a pear or whatever it was. Because of him I must suffer. That answer is not good enough for me. One day I would be able to think clearly and realize that all of the suffering, the sleepless nights, the physical pain, and the stress, balanced by various instances of happiness and windfalls of blessings were all a part of the plan.
Despite the pain and agony that I felt in that moment, I pressed forward. I arose from the air mattress slowly, dried my tears and kept going. I would complete this cycle for so many days after: first pain, then tears, then moving on. No matter how badly I felt at the moment, I had no one to help and I knew that I must keep going. I was determined to not make Taylor’s disabilities an excuse to live below what I deemed a good life. I was determined to do my best even when I knew it was not good enough, knowing intuitively that if I had gotten more rest, I could have done just as well and accomplished even more than the average person. Over the years, I have done the best I could to mask the internal pain with an external smile in a hope that no one could see that I was suffering so much on the inside.
Photo credit: Natalie Perez / NataliePerezDP.com
Waiting for a season of suffering to end is similar to waiting on a thunderstorm to pass. It reminds me of a night during that same summer of 2006. The night was dark and stormy. Taylor and I had finally arrived at the computer lab on Elm Street, past the New Haven Green and the Yale music building (almost over the river and through the woods). As she was asleep in her stroller, I typed my assignment that was due the next day. After completing my assignment in the lab, we walked outside and into the storm. We headed to the student bus stop. I frantically pressed the button on the call box and waited. I listened to the recording on the other end, but through the static, I could barely make out what they were saying.
The thunder and lightning did little to help make this call clearer and the rain pounding on my umbrella seemed to reiterate the urgency of this call. I was worried that the person on the other end did not hear me, so I called again and belted out the same plea, “I am at the 24 computer lab at the engineering building, could someone please come get us, and does anyone hear me? We’re going to York Street.” I knew that I must have faith and patience, trusting someone heard our desperate plea and was sending a van over to rescue us from the storm. My patience dwindled with every drop of rain and clash of thunder that passed. I prayed they heard us and that the bus would come. God gave me the faith, patience and endurance to wait out the storm until help did indeed arrive. Just like the wave of suffering that life brings, eventually we were rescued and the storm passed.