The true test of someone’s character is the extent to which they can suffer and still go on loving.
Anyone who has experienced tragedy, illness, or disability can speak firsthand to the unimaginable difficulty of achieving this.
Suffering is the true opiate of the masses. As Emerson understood, most people live their lives in “quiet desperation.” True pain knocks the wind right out of us and makes us doubt our deepest values that we hold so dear to us. Suffering is the ultimate existential barrier that we all must climb over at one point or another.
I want to make something abundantly clear: there is no love without suffering.
Love and suffering are the yin and the yang of human experience. They are the two most extreme qualities that we humans could possibly feel. Everything we experience falls somewhere along this universal spectrum of love and sorrow.
Our ability to endure sorrow is directly related to our capacity to experience love. In essence, sorrow makes us more capable of love, but only if we truly understand the meaning of sorrow and how it pertains to our own existence. If we take our suffering personally, there is no way we can truly understand the meaning of it, and thereby, we can never move upon the precious jewel that is love.
Suffering expands our ability to feel the fullness of life, as Khalil Gibrain knew quite well:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the self same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
In dealing with a severe chronic illness for the past few years, my resolve has certainly been tested. There have been many moments when I wanted nothing more than to watch the world burn—to have others suffer as I have suffered—and I would be lying to say that those thoughts have ceased to cross my mind.
I really can’t explain the level of pain and alienation that comes from being a young man living with an invisible illness, nor will I make a valiant effort to do so, being that I don’t know how I could make someone truly empathize through my words alone.
All I can say is that it’s like being lost out at sea—waves constantly swelling through and knocking you off balance. Fearing the inevitable dread of the bottomless ocean. Tasting the misty spray of salt water in your mouth. Knowing that nobody is going to come to save you—all you can do is hang on.
I feel blessed to know what this feels like, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a unique experience, and if I play my cards well, I feel I will eventually transmute all of the pain I have experienced into something that can be of benefit to all. Suffering can turn into love, and love can turn into suffering at the drop of a hat.
To understand the interplay between love and suffering is to have a firm grasp on what it means to be human.
Imagine the kind of world we would live in if everyone was capable of turning suffering into love. That is a place I would very much like to live.
To cultivate this capacity to make love out of suffering—which requires a tremendous amount of attention and care—is to shine a light on the world. Everywhere we go, we make things better. Everywhere we go, we act in the name of the greater good.
There is nothing more fulfilling than to struggle with all of our soul on behalf of the good, and it is this sentiment that keeps me alive.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Taia Butler