Who would you ask for advice; a spoiled rich prince who has never left the grounds of his estate, or a man who has walked barefoot in the dust, gone hungry, slept in fields, felt pain, and dealt with death? The first man is Siddhartha, the second, Buddha. Same person, pre- and post- suffering.
Look at David Letterman. First, there was the angry late-night talker, hectoring his GE boss and nemesis, Bob Wright, and pissing off Cher. Then quadruple heart bypass surgery and an unexpected son. Voila! Behold David Letterman, doting father and avuncular host.
Kate DiCamillo has written The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, an astonishing story about a china rabbit’s journey from selfishness to self-abandon, through the virtue of suffering.
Unlike his predecessor, The Velveteen Rabbit, Edward Tulane does not love the little girl who owns him and adores him. Edward is vain, self-absorbed and obnoxious. When he is snatched by two bratty boys and thrown into the ocean, it’s pretty impossible to squeeze up any sympathy for him.
After marinating at the bottom of the ocean for almost a year, Edward is tumbled about by a storm that eventually propels him into a fisherman’s net. From there he passes through many lives, enduring hurts and indignities along the way.
As you may guess, the book is a classic hero’s journey. Edward Tulane begins his existence as a one-dimensional entity. In the ocean muck his outer trappings rot away and he becomes a blank slate for the needs of those who find him.
At first he is annoyed by the lack of respect he receives. Gradually, he comes to appreciate the devotion lavished on him from people in painful circumstances. When he loses the one that cared for him the most, Edward learns how to love. But that is not the end of the story
I know, I know: urp. But Kate DiCamillo tells the story simply and honestly, as if she is letting us in on the secret of life. Which of course, she is.
Because the end of the story is not learning how to love. The end of the story is being hurt by that love, watching it slip away and being brave enough to risk loving again.
Which brings us to the virtue of suffering.
I’m not talking about hair shirts and self-flagellation. That is called “MASOCHISM” and usually includes some weird psycho-sexual thing. There is enough natural suffering without inventing it.
Most of our energy these days seems to be dedicated to avoiding discomfort, let alone pain and suffering. I’m usually on board with that, but sometimes suffering is necessary.
Suffering makes us humble.
Suffering makes us compassionate.
Suffering makes us human.