A hope note
How does suffering shape lives? There are two leading theories.
One is represented by Somerset Maugham, British author, writing about what he witnessed as a medical student: ‘Suffering did not ennoble; it degraded. It made men selfish, mean, petty and suspicious. It absorbed them in small things. It made them less than men.’
The other point of view can be summed up in three succinct sentences from experts on suffering:
Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.’
Ernest Hemingway: ‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.’
Helen Keller: ‘Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.’
I think of Patrick Henry Hughes, born with multiple anomalies: scoliosis, no eyes, inability to walk, arms that can’t be straightened. Patrick began playing piano at nine months. Today, he plays trumpet in the University of Louisville Marching Band and is a virtuoso pianist and vocalist. He’s a straight-A student in his college classes.
How do we understand a Patrick Henry Hughes and his response to suffering? First, Patrick chose his family well! His mother, father and two brothers have an earned A in family, having bathed him in affirmation, support and encouragement all the way. What if Patrick Henry Hughes had been born into another family, a family that, for whatever reason, didn’t believe in him? We don’t want to go there.
And then there’s Patrick’s indomitable spirit. Smiling, he insists that he is ‘just a normal guy living my life.’ He prefers to think and talk about ‘abilities’ instead of ‘disabilities.’ No family, however wonderful, can dictate spirit; the child alone holds those controls.
Suffering may be no match for the combination of an A-plus in family and an A-plus in attitude.