Suffering Is Optional

It’s been a tough year for most of us. There have been interruptions to plans and we have learned how much we take some things for granted and many of us have learned a new form of appreciation.

There have been some who have done amazing things and accomplished so much with this time, and some who have celebrated the days they could get out of bed. For many of us there have been a bit of both.

Now after months and months of restrictions and with the seasons changing in the western hemisphere many of us are growing weary of this and asking, “are we done yet?”

We can recognize so many have it far worse than we do and scold ourselves into submission, but I’m not a fan of that. I’m also not a fan of wallowing in what isn’t and can’t be.

I recall a story I heard years ago that has come bubbling back up to the surface for me now. The story recounts a group of people who were captive, they might have been POWs or something like that, I can’t exactly recall. 

The story talks about the fortitude of the men as they waited almost endlessly for their ordeal to end. In the beginning of their time in captivity they were all optimistic that a rescue was certain but from this point they began to diverge in their thinking.

A few believed although rescue was imminent, they didn’t have any idea how long it would take but believed at one point their captivity would end in freedom. The others began to identify a period of time they determined it was reasonable to expect release. 

As the time ticked by and each period of time passed and another “reasonable” date was set. As each passed by with no sign of relief the men who were counting on the dates began to lose hope. They began to doubt they would ever return to the life they loved and the freedom they had. Mentally they began to breakdown and become depressed and despondent, hopeless as each marker passed by.

The few men that had not believed in a particular date but still held the belief that they would be rescued remained steadily hopeful. They were secure in the knowledge that rescue was just a matter of time. 

When the beautiful day of rescue came there were two groups of men, one who had lost weight, become despondent and angry for the length of time passed until rescue. The second group were grateful and ready to celebrate and praise the rescuers.

Years later the bitterness remained with those who felt that time had been stolen from them. Their multitude of unmet expectations scarred them not only in that time as prisoners but because they carried the pain forward, each unmet expectation re-injured the old wound. 

The lesson for me in this story is that the men who were so bitter and disappointed had created the suffering themselves. They had no proof that the times they felt they should have been rescued by were possible. They continued to pick arbitrary dates because from within the confines of the prison camp they had no information upon which to create realistic expectations. 

It’s kind of like where we have been during this entire pandemic. No matter where in the world you have ridden this thing out, many have filled the airwaves with blind commentary of when this would be over.  Arbitrary guesses about future travel, gatherings and expectations of life without fear of human interaction are doing no one any good.

Infectious disease research is usually a years-long process to come up with timelines, vaccines, immunity, safety protocol, etc.  Giving ourselves timelines of holidays or vacation dates is simply an opportunity for disappointment just as the prisoners had.

I encourage you to use this time to focus the things you can celebrate while dreaming for the days ahead like planning for an upcoming trip that hasn’t yet been scheduled.

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