On the suffering of others

When my child was three, he inadvertently squirted hand soap into his eyes. We were in the kitchen. He screamed. SCREAMED. I lifted him into the sink and ran water over his eyes, but when I had him open them, I hadn’t gotten all the soap out and he screamed again. The second time, I let the water run over his eyes for so long that I had time to watch his terrified face, the way he had my shirt in his fists, the tears down his cheeks. He still remembers it. I’ll never forget.

It is terrible to witness the suffering of others. But we are wrong to say that it is worse than suffering itself. I didn’t have soap in my eyes. I wasn’t lifted into the sink and in the hands of another person. I saw his fear, but I was not afraid. I knew I could get the soap out of his eyes. I knew I could help him. It just took longer than either of us wanted.

What does it mean to cut your children off from your love? The premise presumes, of course, that you have loved your child at all, but let’s say that you do. Let’s say you do love your child, but you don’t like something about them that you have defined as a behavior. You don’t like their addiction, for instance. You don’t like what they do when they’re high. Thieving. Promiscuity. Recklessness.

Or maybe you don’t like that they have compromised their soul by falling in love with someone like them. And maybe you have decided to shun them because god would have it so. The way Jesus shunned people whose behavior the Old Testament had called criminal. You are the image of Jesus, right? Casting out your child. And then you don’t have to witness any suffering. You don’t have to watch what happens to a child on the street. A child at the mercy of a world that may or may not have more sympathy than you, the parent.

I have hated these parents for a long time. These assholes who cast out their own children. Who claim to speak for god. Fucking girls when I was a girl will never be a greater sin than pretending you know the heart of god. Fucking women as a woman will never be a greater sin than crediting Jesus with a hatred he never expressed. I promise you. I promise.

Do you know what is worse than watching someone suffer? Suffering itself. And you have thrown your own child out into the world and told them the way they love is broken and wrong. And you have told them they are broken and wrong. And that you cannot love them. You have told them that even god does not love them.

I have hated these parents because they are evil. It is evil to speak for god. It is evil to cast your child into the world with judgment. It is evil to pretend that you know what salvation requires.

You are not the hand of god.

And I, happily, am not the hand of god either. I am just a woman doing the best I can. A woman who can still see her child, at three, in the large kitchen sink, my shirt in his fists. And I would do anything to spare his suffering. ANYTHING. Because his suffering is the worst thing I have ever experienced. And that is how I love him. I love him as though there were no other. There is only a child and my love.

So you throw your child out because you are wrong and you are cruel. But I will love them. I will love all of them. Because that is all the goodness that exists in this world. To love those around us, those in need, as though we cannot abide suffering in any form. As though our greatest desire is to help and heal and tend. Can you imagine?

Can you imagine anything closer to the heart of god?

2 thoughts on “On the suffering of others”

  1. I am not religious but this, this makes me want to believe. These words are so poetic. It brought a tear to my eye to read, …”as though we cannot abide suffering in any form.” Yes, just imagine such a world. ♥️

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