One Weird Thing about Suffering

There are things we will miss

One day I will miss the shoes on the floor, the tiny pair, a miniature version of his father’s shoes. There are piles of clothes around the house as I attempt the annual sorting of four outgrown children’s clothes, discerning what to donate, what to save, and what to quickly pass on to the next child.

One day we will miss this. The baby pulls herself to her feet and takes the first sideway steps. The almost-five year old reads his numbers, letters and colors. He reads a book, having memorized the words, thrilled that he knows exactly what I am pointing to, though he cannot actually read at all.

The eldest learns to wash her face with a bar of Dove soap because I want to save her from the expensive indulgences I have become accustomed to at the Macy’s Clinique counter. We tease the first-born son about an arranged marriage.

One day we will miss this.

Photo by Dick Saunders on Unsplash

I sat up with a baby from two to four last night. In the afternoon, as I grew just sleepy enough to fall asleep, while the two youngest napped, I heard a cry from across the house. I had to get up again.

But when we read a picture book together, the rest melts away. When we watch a Youtube video of a song titled “Christopher Columbo” from a Bing Crosby black-and-white flick, the rest fades away. When we gather around the table and hear what mispronunciations the eldest has to share from her science textbook and we catch the verbal errors of all those around the table, we laugh and forget the chores of today.

How many secret moments have the shutdown offered us that we otherwise might have missed? My focus turned inward as my husband sought to maximize the work he could to at home, having been told to work from home. So we cope, we watch movies, and we find new ways to laugh, not in an extraordinary way, but in a way that magnifies the actual life we are living, the life we are meant to find.

That is the key to suffering.

It is not about the hardness of suffering, but the way suffering strips away all the unnecessities, as this crisis did both by the illness itself and the results of the shutdown. It stripped away all the superfluous brass and buckles and brought back sensible dresses with loose waste lines. We were no longer performing, showing off for the public. We were living.

The shoes were left on the floor, neatly arranged, left and right. I hear him and his dad laugh to jazz Christmas music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The other children help clean the home while I rest, the end of the day wearing on my reserves.

This is the invitation.

We will miss this when it’s gone. Because suffering, in editing, actually brings into full color the best of things. I saw the streets of San Francisco on walks while my son lay lethargic in the hospital bed. I saw the sweet pea shoots as my daughter lay in the cemetery. I saw the promise of a growing education while our financial future lay uncertain. But bigger than all that, I saw my family.

There is no end to opportunity once the superfluous is wiped away. Will we see it or will we fight against the grain, the deprivation of whatever we are missing, or the hardship it presents? The adventure is only in the thing we embrace. The adventure is only in the life well-lived.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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