After a bruÂtal series of ChristÂmas shifts working in theÂ Emergency Room, I had finally come home for the holÂiÂdays.Â My mother and I were in the kitchen, talkÂing like we used to.Â We had seen and loved the newÂ Les MisÂerÂablesÂ film, and so I brought up an interÂestÂing quesÂtion from anÂ interÂview with SamanÂtha Barks,Â who played Eponine:
InterÂviewer: I think aside from â€œI Dreamed a Dreamâ€, â€œOn My Ownâ€ is probÂaÂbly one of the most loved songs of the musiÂcal, and I think itâ€™s fasÂciÂnatÂing that the two most recÂogÂnized and loved are just the two most heartÂbreakÂing songs, so what does it say about us as an audiÂence that the songs that we conÂnect with are the most heartÂbreakÂingÂ songs?
My mother was quiet as she thought about it.Â â€œI think,â€ she said, â€œthat it is someÂthing we all share in comÂmon.Â We all sufÂfer, and know what it means to lose a dream or to be disÂapÂpointed.Â We all know how itÂ feels.â€
In those moments, I was reminded of how much of her life and our famÂily hisÂtory was filled with a tragedy not too differÂent from that ofÂ Les MisÂerÂables.Â Half of our famÂily tree was missÂing or unknown, scatÂtered and wiped out durÂing the war in China.Â My grandÂparÂentsâ€™ hisÂtoÂries were charÂacÂterÂized by their flight from the war: watchÂing masÂsacres of schoolÂmates while hidÂing in the bushes, stepÂping on dead bodÂies to avoid landÂmines, being trafÂficked via hay carts and ships in order to seek refuge abroad.Â My parÂents grew up in the grindÂing poverty of rural vilÂlages, their childÂhood overÂshadÂowed by the threat of immiÂnent war, their eduÂcaÂtion grimly driÂven by the hope of an opporÂtuÂnity to emiÂgrate to theÂ US so that they could form a famÂily here . . . so that their future chilÂdren â€” meanÂing I â€” could have a betÂterÂ life.
WithÂout knowÂing my thoughts, my mother spoke again.Â â€œI really likeÂ that song from the carÂriageâ€¦ where he has the litÂtle girl sleepÂing in his lap and realÂizes that everyÂthing is difÂferÂent now he has a child.â€Â She paused.Â â€œYou know, everyÂthing is difÂferÂent when there is a child.Â Your whole world changes.â€
â€œI have had this all my life, and I am going to get wid ofÂ it!â€
â€œRid of it,â€ her therÂaÂpist corrected.
â€œW-right.â€Â She turned her head to grin at us, and I couldnâ€™t stop smilÂing.Â We were all lying on exerÂcise mats in the therÂapy rooms because, as the therÂaÂpist taught us, we could use â€œgwavÂityâ€ to help roll those â€œrâ€™sâ€ betÂter.Â I was sure she was one of the therapistâ€™s favorite patients: diliÂgent, focused, and with a perÂsonÂalÂity comÂposed entirely of laughÂter and light.Â In less than fifÂteen minÂutes, through lisÂtenÂing to her â€œchawming pwonun-sheation,â€ I had already named her as a favorite.Â Few of my litÂtle patients were as mature, knowlÂedgeÂable, and thrillingly articÂuÂlate at the digÂniÂfied age ofÂ seven.
And in that moment, I thought about theÂ NewÂtown masÂsacreÂ and the fact that there must have been preÂcious litÂtle difÂferÂence between any of those chilÂdren and this young girl who was now sprinÂkling glitÂter on a craft snowÂman, that even the best and brightÂest of us still live in that same world of terrors.
My mother spoke again.Â â€œMy favorite song is that one Jean ValÂjean prays, aboutÂ bringÂing him homeÂ . . . it is such a beauÂtiÂful prayer.Â He says, â€˜You can take, you can give . . . If I die, let me die; let him live . . . bring himÂ home.â€™â€
We talked some more, then she said this: â€œLife is filled with such sufÂferÂing, you know.Â There is so much sorÂrow . . . but there are moments when GodÂ saves.â€
That night, I went to my old bedÂroom and pulled a stack of jourÂnals off the bookÂcase.Â They were etched eight, nine, ten years ago with an illegible scrawl that reflected the tired and stress-filled times they were writÂten in.Â I leafed through theÂ many yelÂlowed pages of thought-scratch, relivÂing those moments of anxÂiÂety and worry.Â So many of them were desÂperÂate calls to God about things I no longer rememÂber now, reflectÂing criÂsis after criÂsis that seem trivÂial and inconÂseÂquenÂtial now.Â I wanted to laugh at the litÂtle boy, at his deep inseÂcuÂriÂties and obsesÂsion with doubt and sufÂferÂing, and say, â€œYou havenâ€™t seen anyÂthingÂ yet.â€
But I didnâ€™t because I realÂized that even I, the same boy a decade later, am still immersed in my own world of sorÂrows, conÂflicts, despair, andÂ cynÂiÂcism.Â At times of newness and regeneration, like spring and especially Easter, we are hopeÂful that the old wounds of our past will heal, that we can assume a new and a fresh start, that the world will be a betÂter and brighter place . . . if not for us, then at least for our chilÂdren, the icons of innoÂcence and hope.Â But this belies the expeÂriÂences of our own sorÂdid hisÂtory as humanÂity and as indiÂvidÂual humans.Â Is our redempÂtion progresÂsive?Â Does anyÂthing ever change?Â Are our cries for salÂvaÂtionÂ heard?
Henri Nouwen writes about this in his last book,Â Can You Drink the Cup?,Â scripted durÂing his final years as minÂisÂter atÂ lâ€™Arche DayÂbreak, a comÂmuÂnity of those with intelÂlecÂtual disabilities:
There is Tracy, comÂpletely parÂaÂlyzed, but with a bright mind, always strugÂgling to find ways to express her feelÂings and thoughts.Â There is Susanne, not only menÂtally disÂabled but also regÂuÂlarly batÂtered by inner voices that she cannot conÂtrol.Â There is Loretta, whose disÂabilÂity causes her to feel unwanted by famÂily and friends and whose search for affecÂtion and affirÂmaÂtion throws her into moments of deep despair and depresÂsion.Â There are David, FranÂcis, Patrick, JanÂice, Carol, Gordie, George, Patsy . . . each of them with a cup full of sorrow . . .
And for me things are not very difÂferÂent.Â After ten years of livÂing with peoÂple with menÂtal disÂabilÂiÂties and their assistants, I have become deeply aware of my own sorrow-filled heart.Â There was a time when I said: â€œNext year I will finally have it together,â€ or â€œWhen I grow more mature these moments of inner darkÂness will go,â€ or â€œAge will diminÂish my emoÂtional needs.â€Â But now I know that my sorÂrows are mine and will not leave me.Â In fact I know they are very old and very deep sorÂrows, and that no amount of posÂiÂtive thinkÂing or optiÂmism will make them less.Â The adoÂlesÂcent strugÂgle to find someÂone to love me is still there; unfulÂfilled needs for affirÂmaÂtion as a young adult remain alive in me.Â The deaths of my mother and many famÂily memÂbers and friends durÂing my later years cause me conÂtinÂual grief.Â Beyond all that, I expeÂriÂence deep sorÂrow that I have not become who I wanted to be, and that the God to whom I have prayed so much has not given me what I have most desired . . .
Whose cup is this?Â It is our cup, the cup of human sufÂferÂing.Â For each of us our sorÂrows are deeply perÂsonal.Â For all of us our sorÂrows, too, are universal . . . Jesus, the man of sorÂrows, and we, the peoÂple of sorÂrow, hang there between heaven and earth, cryÂing out, â€œGod, our God, why have you forÂsakenÂ us?â€ . . .
In his immense loneÂliÂness, he fell on his face and cried out: â€œMy Father, if it is posÂsiÂble, let this cup pass me byâ€ (Matthew 26:39).Â Jesus couldnâ€™t face it.Â Too much pain to hold, too much sufÂferÂing to embrace, too much agony to live through.Â He didnâ€™t feel he could drink that cup filled to the brim with sorrows.
Why then could he still say yes?Â I canâ€™t fully answer that quesÂtion, except to say that beyond all the abandonÂment expeÂriÂenced in body and mind Jesus still had a spirÂiÂtual bond with the one he called Abba.Â He posÂsessed a trust beyond betrayal, a surÂrenÂder beyond despair, a love beyond all fears.Â This intiÂmacy beyond all human intiÂmaÂcies made it posÂsiÂble for Jesus to allow the request to let the cup pass him by become a prayer directed to the one who had called him â€œMy Beloved.â€Â NotwithÂstandÂing his anguish, that bond of love had not been broÂken.Â It couldnâ€™t be felt in the body, nor thought through in the mind.Â But it was there, beyond all feelÂings and thoughts, and it mainÂtained the comÂmuÂnion underÂneath all disÂrupÂtions.Â It was that spirÂiÂtual sinew, that intiÂmate comÂmuÂnion with his Father, that made him hold on to the cup and pray: â€œMy Father, let it be as you, not I, would have itâ€ (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus didnâ€™t throw the cup away in despair.Â No, he kept it in his hands, willÂing to drink it to the dregs.Â This was not a show of willpower, staunch deterÂmiÂnaÂtion, or great heroÂism.Â This was a deep spirÂiÂtual yes to Abba, the lover of his wounded heart. . . .
Our culÂture tends towards an inflexÂiÂble sense of optiÂmism and humanÂism.Â We are conÂvinced that true joy and human actuÂalÂizaÂtion must come through the eradÂiÂcaÂtion of pain, sufÂferÂing, and sorÂrow.Â It comes as litÂtle surÂprise then that we hide away the sick and sufÂferÂing in hosÂpiÂtals and menÂtal instiÂtuÂtions and ghetÂtoes, or that conÂverÂsaÂtions about sufÂferÂing are branded as cynÂiÂcal and faux pas (unless they revolve around the trivial).Â It is only logÂiÂcal that our perÂspecÂtive on hope is senÂtiÂmenÂtal and, when bruÂtally chalÂlenged by events like NewÂtown or other corÂrupÂtions of innoÂcence, easÂily susÂcepÂtiÂble to cynÂiÂcism and despair.
In the perÂson of Jesus Christ, whose entrance into the world was humÂble and threatÂened by scanÂdal and vioÂlence, we are reminded that hope must be divine.Â It must derive itself from the exterÂnal, the invisÂiÂble, and the eterÂnal if it is to pose any help to our intractable, superÂfiÂcial, and fickle humanÂity.Â It canÂnot be the mere absence or aboÂliÂtion of sufÂferÂing; it must engage it, overÂcome it, transÂform it.Â It does not begin from a posiÂtion of strength or intimÂiÂdaÂtion; it starts with weakÂness so that it might express itself in desire and, through satisfaction, bring joy.Â It has no groundÂing in ideÂalÂism, theÂory, or abstracÂtion; it instead comes from the closeÂness, the sweetÂness, and the affecÂtion of Jesus Christ, the incarÂnaÂtion of all we hope for.
It is this recogÂniÂtion of Christâ€™s presÂence in the hardÂness of life that brings us libÂerty and enables us to hope freely and chalÂlenge the darkÂness of cynÂiÂcism, unburÂdened by the restricÂtions of senÂtiÂmenÂtalÂity and its inconÂgruity with realÂity.Â We can live and thrive in the darkÂest corÂners of the hosÂpiÂtals, nursÂing homes, menÂtal instiÂtuÂtions, funeral homes, labor camps, and ghetÂtoes simÂply because Jesus says he lives and thrives there asÂ well . . . because he has risen and resurrected from the grave.
â€œThen the King will say to those on his right, â€˜Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inherÂiÂtance, the kingÂdomÂ preÂpared for you since the creÂation of the world.Â For I was hunÂgry and you gave me someÂthing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me someÂthing to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,Â I needed clothes and you clothed me,Â I was sick and you looked after me,Â I was in prison and you came to visitÂ me.â€™
â€œThen the rightÂeous will answer him, â€˜Lord, when did we see you hunÂgry and feed you, or thirsty and give you someÂthing to drink?Â When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needÂing clothes and clothe you?Â Â When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visitÂ you?â€™
â€œThe King will reply, â€˜I tell you the truth, whatÂever you did for one of the least of these brothÂers of mine, you did for me.â€™â€ â€”Â Jesus (Matthew 25)
For you did not receive a spiritÂ that makes you a slave again to fear,Â but you received the Spirit of sonship.Â And by him we cry, â€œAbba,Â Father.â€Â Â The Spirit himÂself tesÂtiÂfies with our spiritÂ that we are Godâ€™s chilÂdren.Â Â Now if we are chilÂdren, then we are heirsâ€”heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed weÂ share in his sufÂferÂingsÂ in order that we may also share in his glory. â€”Romans 8
I want to knowÂ Christ and the power of his resÂurÂrecÂtion and the felÂlowÂship ofÂ sharÂing in his sufÂferÂings,Â becomÂing like him in his death,Â and so, someÂhow, to attain to the resÂurÂrecÂtionÂ from the dead. â€”Â PhilipÂpiÂansÂ 3
GenoÂcide, masÂsacre, poverty, disÂapÂpointÂment, cruÂciÂfixÂion, famine, nakedÂness, death, or sword; together with Christ, with the felÂlowÂship of sufÂferÂing and the drinkÂing of its cup to its dregs, we shall have our overÂcomÂing.Â SomeÂhow, we shall attain.
He is Risen! Â He is Risen indeed.
About the author:
David graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and received his medical degree from Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School with a Masters in Public Health concentrated in health systems and policy. He completed a dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. He continues to work in Delaware as a dual Med-Peds hospitalist. Faith-wise, he is decidÂedly Christian, and regarding everything else he will gladly talk your ear off about health policy, the inner city, gadgets, and why Disneyâ€™s Frozen is actually a terrible movie.