Yesterday was horrible. But now – I hesitate to say it – I think now I know how they feel. The reason I hesitate is because I think it’s a bit like a heartbroken eighth grader thinking she “gets” the pain of the widowed wife, or the down-sized American worker that he “feels” the poverty of the Peruvian street boy. It’s seems impossible, and like mockery. And yet, as someone once reminded me when I was hurting, pain is pain is pain to the person who feels it.
I wrote a comical (and now, laughable) post Wednesday about hearing Sam cry himself to sleep. If you did the math on it, I think he cried a total of seven minutes. Yesterday Sam went in for a routine physical to receive routine shots. Hours later he began to experience what I think is a routine “reaction” to getting two shots and some oral immunization. Basically, he cried. He sobbed. He screamed. For six hours, his little body simply shook – blotched, sweaty, and swollen – pained, I guess, from the bruise of the needles and the small dose of disease.
Of course, big picture, it was no big deal. Shots – they happen. They’re not “that bad.” And yet you couldn’t tell Sam that his pain wasn’t real. To him, it was the worst he’d ever experienced in his little life. And you can’t tell me that I didn’t ache for him, to help him understand, to lessen his hurt. The worst part was that he was obviously hungry and thirsty, especially at the end, but he was crying too much, and his legs hurt him too badly, to nurse. The one thing I can do for him, I couldn’t.
As awful as it all was, I knew it would pass, and throughout the day my mind kept settling on others – parents who watched their children suffer, but endlessly, and with no nice, simple explanation. I thought of my college professor Dr. Gordon, who I saw battle colon cancer during my senior year. I say “saw” because he literally dragged his chemo in tubes and wheels behind his frail body – to class – every day for months. I got up enough courage to ask him towards the end how he was able to keep trusting God through something so awful. He said it was nothing compared with looking into the eyes of his precious baby girl who had leukemia, and knowing he was powerless to help her. (She died at two months old.)
I also thought about friends I know. The Gibbs, whose two-year old had leukemia. The Clarks, who have watched their little guy undergo sleeplessness, pain, and discomfort for 9 months, with no diagnosis and little relief.
And then, of course, there’s the obvious one, the one I’m supposed to see. Was God really a parent? Did he feel the pain of a mother? I think for me there’s always been the tendency, and perhaps even the desire, to reduce the story to something more digestible, less meaningful. Like, (forgive my flippancy) God gave up…his ice cream cone. Or, God gave up…his seat on the bus. But no, God so loved the world, that he gave up his Son. It’s one thing (and a very noble one) to endure the trauma of a suffering child. But it’s quite another to choose it. This lesson a Christian parent understands – or I guess I should say – does not understand – more than anyone. Two months in, I got my first taste. I should like it, and feel loved and blessed and all those things, but more than that I feel confused and uncomfortable and unworthy. It is wonderful, the Cross, but so incomprehensible…