On suffering and gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and people are waking up to start (or continue) the rituals that have bonded their families for generations. In many households, at some point they will gather around a table to eat, and perhaps take a moment to engage in a form of communion; acknowledging what they are grateful for.

Most holidays are accompanied by unplanned or uninvited guests, and this Thanksgiving is no different. Except this year our guest arrived early, and decided to make themselves at home with all of us. Each day, COVID is getting more comfortable, as we exhaust our abilities to accommodate this unscheduled stay. And there is no return flight yet, so we find ourselves living in a perpetual timeless fog.

While many people here in the U.S. are lamenting how they cannot travel to visit family, and some are even feeling personally victimized by regional bans on large gatherings, I cannot help but think about two other visitors who have recently visited Honduras and the Philippines. Hurricanes Eta and Ulysses have brought unimaginable suffering to thousands of people in these regions, adding devastating property damage and the loss of personal belongings to their existing COVID related nightmare.  

Carol Wood's home. La Lima, Honduras.

Shon Paunan's home. Antipolo, Philippines.

Suffering is a unique human condition, as it is universal. No one can escape it. Everyone suffers. Everyone you know has suffered throughout their life, is probably suffering right now, and will suffer again in the future.

Suffering unites us like nothing else, because it knows no physical, ethnic, religious, socio-economic or moral boundaries. And in doing so it connects us, like nothing else. We speak different languages, eat different foods, worship different gods, pursue different paths, and yet we all know what it feels like to suffer physical and emotional pain.

Some have called this a "gift" to humanity; I find inspiration in the words of Rumi, the 13th century Iranian poet.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

This raises another question though: what does light look like?

I don't have a clear answer for this. I am still learning. But I imagine it would look something like what Carol has experienced. Her smile cannot be contained by the mask she is wearing, nor can the mud and dirt dim the light that is beaming from inside her.

Carol cleaning up.

Perhaps we can see the light in the eyes of children. As they teach us resilience and playfulness when dealing with the unexpected.

Shon's kids.

I cannot help but think Rumi is suggesting that "light" is a requisite for another human condition that is universal: gratitude. This makes sense to me, especially today, as the connection between suffering and gratitude feels undeviatingly simple. And maybe that is the learning for us today, as we gather around tables, either alone, or joined by family and friends, and consider what we are thankful for.

To be thankful for the light, that comes through suffering, that leads to gratitude.  


Shervin Talieh