The importance of hopefulness

When my friend Sherman was a young man, he went to India. Just days before he was to return to the United States, his luggage was stolen. With his clothes, he lost his wallet and passport. Thankfully, he was with a large missions organization that could help him file new paperwork, but for a while he literally had nothing but the clothes on his back.

Before his team left, they went to a market to shop and see a little more of the city. Sherman passed vendors and beggars, often indicating with an apologetic smile that he couldn’t help them. My friend’s heart tore at the sight of one man, a leper covered in strips of dirty cloth. The man called out to my friend — a groan more than anything. But Sherman felt helpless, unable to help him.

Then it occurred to Sherman that he had one thing he could share. He stepped toward the man and sat next to him. He put his arm around the diseased shoulders and gave him a hug. And the Indian cried, moved by the stranger’s willingness to be with him.

Sherman had love. He had love and absolutely nothing else — but at that moment, for that frail man, love was enough.

Not long ago I sat in the commons when two freshmen came in, taking a table next to mine. They began discussing the difficulty of their classes. Music theory was apparently their archnemesis. They didn’t get it and it was the professor’s fault. Right.

It’s important to understand my perspective at this point. I had just spent a week at home due to a chronic illness. There are some things so painfully traumatic that words can not describe. I had been back for four days and I had just been able to start talking about it.

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with this illness, one that I will always have. Whether or not I can have children is no longer a choice my husband and I will have to make and I am at this point unable to keep even a part-time job. The past few years have been a little rough.

…And the two hours spent outside of class for music theory are "unreasonable" and school is unfairly hard? I have never had so little compassion for another person.

That night, I went to Kerry Park with a friend. We sat in her car and talked about my time at home. I cried. I cursed. I hit her dashboard with my fist. And she asked me, "Why do you think some people have to go through so much pain and suffering?"

I looked at the skyline. I said to her, "I learned long ago not to ask ‘why.’ Even if we knew, it wouldn’t change anything." After another long pause I told her, "You know, some day this city will fall. The buildings will decompose and we won’t be here. And if we haven’t loved… this will have been for nothing."

I grinned at her and said, "It’s hard to love people here sometimes."

She nodded her head knowingly.

My pastor told me that when it comes to love, we can be hurt to the same degree that we open our lives to other people. To the same degree that we have known hopelessness is to the same degree that we can know hope. The same goes for pain and suffering; the more we experience, the longer the spectrum becomes and the more joy and peace we can know. How sweet is a pear if we have never tasted lemons?

When I think of Calcutta, a place I have never visited and am admittedly na•ve about, I think of poverty, filth, leprosy, a caste system, and suffering. After pondering this type of place, I realized that being Christ to someone that has nothing seemed much easier than showing Christ to a person that has the world before them. I hug a leper and he sees the type of love only Christ can offer. I hug a couple of freshmen in Gwinn and they call security.

I recognize that the image of India that I have painted above is extremely limited, so I emailed Dr. Kerry Dearborn, knowing that she lived in India for a time. She wrote to me that Calcutta is so much more than poverty and filth. "There is a great deal of dignity, love, and beauty in the midst of the pain of Calcutta, which Mother Teresa worked so hard to demonstrate to the world."

As this dichotomy can only begin to describe India, so it can only begin to describe the condition of my soul. I have come to realize that pain is a great responsibility. And a privilege. As I thought of Calcutta, a place that inhabits both pain and beauty, something occurred to me. I said to myself, "My soul is Calcutta." My relationship with God would be infantile if I did not know suffering. And for that I am truly thankful. At times, especially to those that only hear of the negative, a place like Calcutta may seem very dark. But think of all the opposites of those dark things and to what degree God can make, and is making them beautiful.

I do know pain. And I do know well-being. The sun shines brighter and the air is cleaner when you rise in the morning knowing you will live to glorify God one more day. On the other hand, there are days when all I can muster is a groan and some tears. Thankfully, my God understands both. My soul is Calcutta.

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Title: The importance of hopefulness | Author: Sarah Warnock | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2006-01-25 | Internal ID: 4800