“I thought I had it bad with my bunion until I saw a guy with no feet.” Maybe it is still my headache and it hurts but it is a mosquito bite compared to the unbelievable suffering of others. Let us take an example.
Tom was his name. Tall, handsome, intelligent, he was at the top of his game. Being highly educated he had a great job. He dined and danced at least twice week with beautiful New York women. He was witty, quick and charming. He had his own classy bachelor pad. He knew wines, both red and white. He was the proverbial life he party. At 33, he had it all. Or so it seemed.
He was delighting, one evening, in a glorious dinner with a lovely woman when suddenly he dropped a glass of red wine as he was “toasting ”her loveliness.” There was no warning. There was no symptom. This was the beginning of a 25 year crucifixion of what he calls the “insidious” nature of a breakdown called Parkinson’s Disease or PD for short. This is a very serious, progressive, neurologic disease involving extreme rigidity of limbs, uncontrollable shaking, difficulty in walking and loss of speech.
There was much experimenting with medications, dosages and mixtures. Much consultation. Much testing. Finally, the complicated surgeries with their tensions and fears, with their sometime relief and improvement. There was the exultant hope that the scourge of PD was controlled. He had temporary relief and was able to resume his life somewhat as previously. But it struck again and again until he had to resort to “walkers.” No more job. No more joyful events as of the past. His ability to negotiate by speech was gone. With his superior intellect he had been able to persuade and negotiate deals and contracts. Now he cannot speak. It is as if that great mind and great vision are locked and trapped within outside walls. Are they prison walls that seal him in? That capable mind, however, refuses to be conquered and continues to work and function as he remains a master of the computer through which he is able to communicate all his thoughts, feelings and fears. He bravely faces, with his halting gait, the terrifying task of maneuvering the wild pace of New York City. He reads and researches the latest work relative to his malady. He simply does not quit.
Somewhere we read that God fits the back to the burden. At least my Irish grandmother told me that many times. As I look at Tom and marvel at his courage and Faith, I tremble interiorly as I doubt my own inner strength to cope. I think I have crosses. I am humbled and awed by Tom. Wouldn’t anyone? Where did he get his strength and persistence? Where did he get his resourcefulness so to adapt that he has meaning in this Cross?
Is it temperament? Or fatalism? Or some series of humanistic/social aphorisms? Or intelligent realistic assessment and resignation? Or what? Perhaps each of these might play a part in Tom’s attitude. But none seems strong enough to explain his remarkable adjustment and never ending sense of hope.
It seems to me that the most significant factor in this man’s remarkable coping is his Faith. He has a profound awareness of God’s Presence. He has a striking sense of God’s Will---that difficult to understand dimension for which there are rarely satisfying answers. It is his enormous trust in the loving God that carries him through. Sophisticate that he is, like the great spirits of history, he possesses the difficult virtue: child like (not childish) Faith. He knows somehow that there is a purpose and meaning in his suffering. But not knowing why makes it harder. That the God Who loves him would allow this to happen is difficult to fathom.
How much more difficult it must be for those who have no Faith, no sense of deeper meaning. Does life have anything more to offer than the stressful treadmill of competing for a promotion? Or a bigger house? Or a fling at Club Med? Or heavily troubled by the unending financial demands of life? Why is Tom’s attitude so much more rare than it used to be? Has society become too secularized? Has the ACLU’s anti-religious stance subtly become the norm?
To cope with such crushing physical suffering like Tom’s is bad enough but to be without the strong support of knowing the Lord would be misery multiplied. To base one’s life on an eternal surety is one way of making sense out of inexplicable tragedy.