Thursday, April 21, 2011
Before my father died I asked him what he thought his purpose here on earth was about. Thoughtfully he said, "I came here to suffer for the people." He was a devout Catholic, with a deep love for Jesus, but that was not an answer I was expecting.
There was a time when I would have thought my father was crazy, but I understood what he was saying. I didn’t respond out loud, only nodded my head, as I thought about Native brothers and sisters I knew who were sun dancers, dancing for exactly that same reason that my father lived—suffering consciously and transcending suffering, so that others would not have to suffer at all.
With a wife that was ill most of her life, I now wonder how much of my mother’s suffering my father quietly took on in order to reduce her burden. I think about my mother’s Cherokee heritage and our ancestors’ suffering in the forced march we call the Trail of Tears, where nearly one-quarter of the tribe died in freezing winter snows.
Genocide, torture and persecution are rampant in our history and our current human condition. My heart aches for people held in slavery and people around this world who suffer or lose their lives at the hands of others.
At this time of year, I think about the Jewish people that have been persecuted throughout history, and the significance of Passover in the preservation of life and promise of freedom. I consider Jesus’ powerfully loving transformation of suffering, and the women and men burned at the stake that made the final moments of their lives offerings to God. I reflect upon the life of Buddha who made it his life’s work to transcend suffering and teach others how to do the same.
How many times, I wonder, has someone like my father offered their suffering as a gift, so that no one else would ever have to suffer again? And yet, do we allow ourselves to become free from suffering?
Some time after my father’s death, as I was considering how my father’s mission continued to influence my life, I asked myself these questions, “Are you willing to receive his gift? Are you willing to live life without suffering and accept the joy that is yours to know?”
I understand there will be some suffering in my life. When someone I love dies, I cry. When I injure myself physically it hurts. When people are harmed, I ache for them. Suffering is part of being human. But do any of us have to suffer as much as we do?
Shortly after asking myself if I was willing to receive the gift that comes when suffering is transformed, I started making different choices for myself. Receiving the gift honors the lives of those that have already made the sacrifices, and embraces life as we long for it to be—joyful!
I laugh more and judge less. I wake up and go to bed happy. I am grateful for each small gift and the beauty of each day. I discovered that joy is choice, not something that happens when everything is just right.
When there is suffering, I can be in compassion for others and myself, knowing that my compassion opens a doorway to greater peace and joy. I can choose to do what is right, even if it is difficult, and be joyful in the fulfillment of my choice. I can decide to open my heart each day to experience the wonder of the Mystery unfolding before and within me.
I invite you to join me in living a joyful life—to receive the gift that has been intended for us through the prayers and sacrifices of so many loving people. We fulfill their legacies when we allow ourselves to live a fulfilled life—when we choose to live a joyful life.