Friday, May 15, 2009

Vices and Virtues: The Art of Suffering

A few days ago, I took a good hard fall on the playground equipment while playing with my kids. This is typical for me. I always thought it was due to just being clumsy or ungraceful. I later discovered there was actually a name for it. It's called Multiple Sclerosis. I fall about once a week, and no matter how hard I try, I just can't convince my feet and legs to work the way everyone elses feet and legs work. Simple reality. And when I do fall, I am reminded how pain is a gift. Allow me to explain.

Pain serves an important purpose. It helps us know when we are in danger of potentially life threatening situations. When my MS takes over my arms and hands, it makes my limbs numb to touch. This is mainly a problem when I take objects out of the microwave. Note to self: Objects with high sugar content should only be removed from a microwave with potholders. I usually only know a day or two later when the inevitable return of sensation comes back in full force, and hypersensitivity makes me realize I was stupid for not paying attention to what I was doing. Pain warns us, and those who are not gifted with it, discover only too late they should have stopped while they were ahead.

Pain also builds character. Case in point: Keith Zeier. This guy suffered HUGE pain when he took a hit while serving in our country in the Marines. Now he raises money for our fallen heroes by turning the pain he endures every day into a commodity. He runs despite agonizing pain to secure financial contributions for his charity, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. So far he has raised over $41,000 and is pushing hard to demonstrate that pain doesn't need to be feared, but rather, conquered. (If you want to learn more about Keith's charity, go to )

Most of all, pain highlights the ultimate battle we all face: Fear of death. But suffering and pain can be used as a catalyst to show others how a small, weak or delicate individual, such as Farrah Fawcett, can be strong, determined and great. Although criticized for the reality TV approach to her own struggle with cancer, Farrah does us all a huge favor. She shows her great faith in every step of her agony. In her story, she shows us that which is greatly feared, namely pain, is something we can all overcome and endure. How does she do this? By looking for the reason for her mission. She sees her cancer as a mission to accomplish, and death is NOT the end. Faith helps Farrah to see beyond death and, thus, gives her pain a purpose: She shows us how to be brave.

Both Keith and Farrah have learned the secret to overcoming pain. By giving pain a purpose, and suffering for the sake of others, they take the power from the pain as a victim and twist it. They take control and cease to be victims of the pain inflicted by others, or by an unknown entity. They become survivors, even in death, to show us that WE are the architects of our own destiny. Ultimately, they embrace the very pain that causes other to recoil. In doing so, they lift themselves, and others, up.

When I was 18, my grandfather, Alfonso Merino, died from cancer. He decided he would not look at the pain, but at its purpose. He offered his suffering up for those in his family who had left the Catholic Church. Some may question the effectiveness of this, but noone can argue the impact. His suffering went on for ten months, and when it was over, most of us were sadly relieved. But we all knew his determination to offer his suffering for the sake of our souls. Even if you were an aetheist, you couldn't help but admire his determination to give his pain a purpose. As a result, those who knew him, always thought fondly of him and his courage, not his suffering. While we have to wait to our own deaths to know if his suffering worked to save the souls of others, there is no denying his sacrifice was noble.

When you take control of the pain and embrace it, you discover the real power you have. You discover the value of pain, and the art of suffering nobly for others, just like Keith, Farrah and my grandpa. Ultimately, you discover your foe, is your friend. Pain and suffering become the vehicle to strength and courage.

So the next time I fall, I will simply laugh and say, "Oh, I meant to do that." In doing so, I will have done so.

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