In reflecting on pain and loss and suffering this week, again I am drawn to the interrelationship of joy and sorrow.
They are knit together in such a way that they only make sense and can only be understood because of the other. We know joy because we know the pain of it’s absence. We know sorrow because it stands in stark contrast to the elation of joy.
This past week the question of “why” suffering is present was posed to me in regards to a difficult situation. The exact message was, “I have a hard time trying to wrap my head around why them?” This is a fairly common sentiment in the face of tragedy. We want to make sense of it. We want answers. We want to know why this happened to them, because frankly, the pain of it is terrifying – and if we can make sense of why them, maybe we can control or manipulate things so that such hardship doesn’t befall us.
We can go crazy trying to figure out why. Why them and not me? Why me and not them? Why now? Why this? Oftentimes, perhaps most times, there is no answer.
As much as I understand the reasons for asking why, my preference in the face of suffering and hardship is to move from a why does this happen to a question of how? How will this experience shape me? How will I change or grow because of this? How do I respond to pain and suffering? How is this experience connecting me with humanity in new ways?
When we fixate on why it is easy to get angry and stuck; when we ask how it allows us room to move and grow and be shaped by difficult experiences.
I recognize that why and how also have different starting points. And that why is a necessary pit stop on the way to how.
Why is a question about the very existence of suffering and pain. Why wants a world where it doesn’t happen. Why implies that suffering is unfair, or avoidable, and wrestles to accept the reality of hardship as part of this life. Why wants to control the pain, to avoid the pain.
How has moved past wrestling with the presence of suffering, and instead has come to a place of accepting that sorrow and joy coexist. That they are woven together in an unseparable fabric, with one being necessary in order to know the other. How begs to know what we will do with this reality.
Why sees suffering and sorrow as an intruder on life. How sees these experiences as part of life.
While the why isn’t a bad question, or the wrong question – it is simply a question that doesn’t create a lot of movement. We can get stuck in this line of thinking, and quickly become overwhelmed. It is a starting point, but hopefully not an end point when we are faced with suffering or adversity. Perhaps remembering Gibran’s words that sorrow carving deep expands our capacity for joy can be a way in which we move from the why to the how, and can help us understand the necessity of pain and sorrow in shaping experiences of deep joy and delight.