|Photo courtesy of Free Artistic Photos|
Last month, I was at the library one day looking for a book that might help my daughter with a paper she was writing for school. As I browsed the shelves, I found a book called The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain by Scott Cairns. After having watched my father decline into dementia for years, caring for him, and then finally moving him into a nursing home, I have done a good bit of thinking about suffering. I left the library that day with a tall stack of books for my daughter and a tiny 126-page treasure for myself.
Ironically, just a few weeks after I picked up that book, my father’s suffering came to an end. As I mentioned in my last post, he passed away mid-December. And I have to say, there is great peace in knowing that he is no longer suffering. But we seek solace in many different ways, and after receiving the comfort of friends and family, I was ready to pick up Scott Cairns’ book to hear and learn from another’s experience. Just a few paragraphs into the book, the author writes, “Like most people, I, too, have been blindsided by personal grief now and again over the years. And I have an increasingly keen sense that, wherever I am someone nearby is suffering now.” His words are infused with empathy and compassion and though the author and I are strangers, I read them as the words of a friend.
The day following Dad’s funeral, I was drawn back to my desk, eager to get back to the business of writing. Friends advised me to give myself time, not to rush back into things, but I had to wonder, if I was not writing, what I should be doing. Getting back to words on the page was what I longed for.
Likewise, Cairns’ speaks of art as a form of consolation. “Laboring over the wheel, the canvas, the written page, or the musical score can bring to the laborer a powerfully consoling sense of purpose.” He then quotes philosopher George Steiner for a helpful sense of why this is so: “Any coherent understanding of what language is and how language performs. . .any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meanings and feelings is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God’s presence.”
For me this brought to mind the four different clergymen who stopped into my father’s hospital room during the week he was dying. Although we only personally knew one of them, their words and prayers were no less comforting for having come from strangers. Their words were infused with strength, joy, hope, love, beauty, and truth.
What are your words infused with?