SUFFERING

Wisdom lives out in the great loneliness and can be reached only through suffering. [Igjurgarjuk]

Job ignored the traditional view of life that dominated his culture and deceived his friends. While they tossed shallow, religious questions at him, Job asked deeply spiritual questions of himself.

If a man dies, will he live again?
Why do bad things happen to good people.
Why do good things happen to bad people?

The Buddha told us that we can avoid suffering by embracing the world as it really is, not by attaching ourselves to our desires and expectations, our hopes and fears. But life is full of ups and downs even on the clear road between hopes and fears, dreams and expectations. And many of them cannot be avoided, regardless of our attitude or our actions. In those cases, our suffering will be legitimate if we walk through those ups and downs, not around them. Shortcuts are not a path with heart. What should be avoided is the illegitimate suffering that occurs when we refuse to take responsibility for our choices or make excuses for the outcome. Life is not a playground. Life is a classroom where you get the test first and the lesson afterwards.

We don't mature emotionally when things are easy. We learn the deepest lessons of life when things are hard. Success and failure teeter and totter on competition and luck. Hard work and job skills may not bring you job security or a promotion. The world doesn't owe you a living. You don't have anything if you're given everything. Kindness may not return to you in equal measure. Very few people pay anything forward. People will treat you badly if you let them. Pain brings a deeper, longer-lasting happiness than pleasure. Suffering fosters sobriety, wisdom, kindness and empathy.

Only Son I Ever Knew

Your mother and I met in a specialty electronics company, but the only thing special about that place was her—a breath of fresh air moving through the corridors with company mail and friendly smiles. I knew in an instant that she was the woman I'd been looking for. I wonder now, as I did then, what attracted her to me, but our friendship caught fire, and when I popped the question she said, "Yes."

You joined us a year later. No surprise. We planned you the day we were married. It was your going, Son, not your coming that surprised us.

Remember those morning runs along the Pacific Crest Trail? The sun bursting over the horizon? I was always pleased to see that early light softly and subtly releasing the earth from darkness, then culminating in brilliance and color. I felt the same about you.

On those runs, I sometimes slipped into the shadows of yesterday when my father led me down a mountain trail. In those shadows he is mute. I never knew him. So I'm glad you and I shared our thoughts and feelings on our runs. They helped us get beyond father and son and become friends.

Do you remember when I pointed to the Indian paintbrush? You said, "They're warriors, Dad, reincarnated as flowers to guard the trail. Every crimson petal is a feather won for bravery." I remember how pleased I was to witness the power and perceptiveness of your imagination.

Do you remember when I stepped aside to let you lead? I remember the soft, crunching noises our feet made as I followed you through the frozen leaves. I remember that your stride equaled mine.

Do you remember the stream where the trail splits? You pranced over the slippery rocks and took the left fork without hesitation. The icy water bit sharply into my legs. But I remember being glad that you knew where you were going. That you would not be limited by my example. That you would paint your own picture of who you were. That those subtle brush strokes that were your mother and me would live on in you. That you knew how deeply you had touched our lives.

And I remember our last run in that forest, the one from which you never returned. Your mother and I searched everywhere. Frantic that we couldn't find you. Terrified that we might. A search party found you later that afternoon, broken and beaten.

Your mother and I wept like two frightened children.

That trail meandered through the forest like a ribbon—its twisting path only hinting at what lie beyond. It was an unpredictable trail, as life is, with steep climbs, sudden drops and rocky footing—demanding yet beautiful. Now, writing this letter to you, address unknown, I cannot bear that it foreshadowed Sonset.

After we buried you in the cold, dark earth, we struggled through our grief, slowly and reluctantly accepting the suffering we must endure to get to the other side of the moon. I don't know what you can see, if anything, but I'll always see the smile on your face when you were on this side of the moon.

At your memorial, more than a few said that you were a sweet, humble young man. That you treasured your mother and me as friends as well as parents. That you inspired them with your can-do spirit and gentle strength. That you were a good student and a great runner. That you had a special gift for handling animals. That you were sensitive, thoughtful and caring. Many expressed their wish to know you better. Your mother and I wish we had known you longer.

You came from a mystery and returned to it. If life somehow transcends space and time, perhaps this letter will reach you. I can only hope I've attached enough postage to carry the weight. Until then, it will remind us of how many ways you are still with us. When we read a poem you wrote or hear a song you loved. When we run along a mountain trail. When we watch the moon bloom and sliver. When the sun rises and when it sets. When we look up at the night sky and wonder, as you did, what it's all about. With love and a precarious sense of peace, we say goodbye.