Suffer – to feel pain or distress
“SUFFER” That’s what it said, in caps, in neat print, enclosed in a box.
I was cleaning out some old stuff and came across a letter from my grandmother written to me when I was living away at college. In it, she told me about things going on at home, how much she missed my brother (living on the opposite coast), and wished that I would come home to visit soon. It was signed Love, Nana. But on the bottom of the last page in a small box was written: SUFFER.
Suffer? Was she suffering? Her note seemed typical, cheery enough. She couldn’t mean that she wanted me to suffer? Probably not. Nana used a regular note pad for her letters, just the usual one that she kept next to her chair so she could have been checking the spelling of the word or something. But it seemed odd to me. Whatever. It was just a word scribbled on the back of a piece of paper she used to drop me a quick note.
Every now and then though, the concept of suffering moves forward in my mind. People often talk about “putting an end” to suffering. As a culture we want to eliminate suffering. Pope John Paul II said that there is meaning in suffering. Of course, Catholics are a martyr-loving bunch so I wasn’t surprised; however, when I considered that at the time he said this he was profoundly affected by Parkinson’s disease, it gave me pause. What meaning had he found in his own suffering? As a respected spiritual leader what purpose or lesson did he find in humanity’s suffering?
Recently, when I think about the years spent witnessing my mom’s neurological degeneration, I get it.
The meaning for me has changed.
Suffer – to endure, to bear, to withstand
My Facebook feed has recently been loaded with inspirational posts referring to “passion”… Find your passion… Follow your passion… blah, blah, blah. In looking at my own life, I have a lot of interests, but nothing I would call a clear “passion.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a very full and satisfying and happy life, but what is my passion? Hmmm.
So what is it? Not only what is my individual passion, but what is passion exactly and how does one go about finding it?
Me being me… I looked it up.
Passion — an intense emotion, compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something.(from the Ancient Greek verb paskho – to suffer)
The word is derived from “suffering,” which brings me back to my original question. What is suffering? And now, how could it be related to passion?
How could the one thing we want to eliminate in life be the same thing as what we’re supposed to pursue?
They seem to be the opposite sides of the same coin. To be passionate about something or someone is to focus your time and attention, your energy and spirit. And there’s the problem. Once we share so much of ourselves, we expose our hearts to suffering because the object of our passion can be taken from us.
Wait a minute. Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. It’s not the passion that causes the suffering. It’s the loss of the passion. Well, there you have it. Something can only feel lost if you expect to get it back. Now I see. If I just give the passion away, I can’t possibly suffer any loss.
All together now.
Suffer – to endure, to bear or withstand + Passion – to give of ourselves without expectation
So how do we eliminate suffering AND live a passionate life?
Literally “Have the courage to love freely.”
So it’s not something I need to pursue after all. Finders-keepers.