This morning as I was drinking my coffee, I decided to indulge in a little Twitter scrolling. I came across a clip of Anderson Cooper interviewing Stephen Colbert. At that moment in the interview, they were discussing grief, and Anderson, choking up, asks Stephen,
"You said 'what punishment of gods are not gifts?' Do you really believe that?"
Stephen replied "Yes. It's a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There's no escaping that."
It was hard for me to decide what to focus on for this post with this particular topic in mind, because it's actually a gigantic one that deserves a lot of consideration. I couldn't agree with Stephen more, so I'll direct my thoughts here around how our suffering ultimately benefits us, even if we aren't able to appreciate that fact until much later.
I believe wholeheartedly that we are who we are because of the experiences we've had, and that includes the range of our experiences. Whether you perceive them as positive or negative, what you have gone through has made you who you are. In fact, I'd argue that the more challenges you've endured, the more this applies. The caveat here is that you have to be conscious on multiple levels for this to be the case:
You must be awake to your own mental state. Do you believe it's a gift to exist? Or do you view life as one long, endless challenge that's beating you down?
You must be present. Do you take the time to truly experience your emotions? When something good happens, do you gloss over it? Do you celebrate and take the time to feel joy and gratitude? Do you get lost in the past, thinking of what's happened to you, what someone has done to you?
You must have faith. Faith requires that you believe in something you have no proof of, regardless of whether you have religion or not. Do you accept that when something happens it's for your benefit, even if it's painful right now?
Let me be very clear about this. I am in no way minimizing the experience of those who have suffered tragic, terrible loss. On the contrary, there are losses that can change the course of our lives, and change us, in ways we didn't expect and didn't want. There's probably a parallel discussion here about resiliency that we can tackle another time. But the world is full of amazing people who have suffered on a scale that's crippling to imagine and who have not only endured, but serve as an example and an inspiration to others.
It's important not to compare your experience to others as you consider this. I endured physical and emotional abuse as a child, but I know what I endured barely registers on the scale of "bad things" compared to what some others have. It's not a contest. We have all suffered. When we show ourselves and one another compassion in that suffering, we see some of the greatest heights that we as humans can ascend to.
Embrace your experiences, the joyful and painful. They've made you who you are. And I'm betting who you are is pretty awesome.