Friday, October 10

successful suffering

"You can't pity someone you're in awe of," a priest once said of the first resident in his home for AIDS patients.

I read this today in Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk, which I am proud to say I am just two chapters from completing. It struck me as precisely the ingredient to successful suffering.

Successful suffering? Yes, I said it.

In the midst of typical lunch serving mayhem at the Friary yesterday, an older woman stopped to tell me how frustrated she was with her son when he was younger and seemingly unable to lead a productive life.

"I see people dealing with so much and working so hard," she confided, "and I'd think 'What's wrong with my son?'"

"I guess we all have our own journey," I considered aloud, remembering my own harsh lessons.

When I was younger, I refused to allow anyone to feel sorry for me, warring against pity with personal achievement grenades. It was never good enough for me to survive, I meant to conquer. Thus motivated, even self-pity rarely entered my fortress.

Unfortunately, this drive opened the door to an achievement addiction that I'm still trying to kick. But that's another story.

Managing two mugs and a pot of coffee for a table of presumably homeless people, one woman piped up "I'm so sorry about your arm."

"Really?," I said, "I'm not."

In case you missed it: a homeless woman was feeling pity for me.

The truth is, I don't mean to inspire awe, though it's a nice side effect. But there does seem something special about pain that can inspire greatness--greatness which, otherwise, might have remained undiscovered.