Last summer, one of my mother's neighbors lost a teenage child in a very sad and very unexpected accident.
In many ways, the community, particularly the LDS community, (as the child was Mormon,) rallied around the family. They held memorials, and people tied ribbons around their trees, lampposts, and street signs. A constant reminder of the unanticipated loss.
Last week, in a unit on World Religions, my students and I learned about Buddhism. We studied The Four Noble truths, the first of which acknowledges "The existence of suffering."
Now, every time I drive past a frayed and discolored ribbon, I remember the existence of suffering. Somewhere, someone lost their world.
Over time, however, it was interesting to see some people react to the mother's seemingly prolonged, and still very raw suffering.
"She just needs to move on,"
"She needs to remember that she will see her again"
"She should count her blessings, she was blessed with that sweet spirit for 16 years"
"She just seems to have lost her faith. It is so sad when people let these experiences shake their faith."
After a certain point, for many people, it becomes inconvenient to recognize the existence of suffering. It cuts into having fun, watching The Bachelor, and, dare I say it? Baking cupcakes.
For some Mormons, we struggle to reconcile the need to recognize suffering with our beliefs. How many Jack Weyland novels held a funeral where the only LDS person in attendance wore a "lovely shade of blue" instead of black? Symbolizing that Mormons are special because we don't need to mourn. Why mourn if we really have enough faith? We tell potential converts that our funerals aren't sad, but rather a "Celebration."
The Second Noble Truth emphasizes the "Cause of Suffering." In order to transcend this world, we must allow ourselves to identify the cause of our suffering. Whether it is loss of a child, or simply the pain of living in an imperfect world.
When many LDS people felt pain after hearing Elder Packer's conference talk, the response by the LDS community varied. Some acknowledged the existence of suffering: It is hard to be Gay and Mormon. It is hard to be politically liberal and Mormon. Sometimes, it is just hard to be Mormon.
But many did not want to acknowledge the existence of suffering. Suffering became a sign of a lack of faith, a lack of conviction, a lack of testimony in the Lord's anointed.
"It breaks my heart to see LDS people react this way"
(Responding to your own suffering, but not the suffering of others, does not lead to Enlightenment. It leads to conflict, which Buddhists recognize as a hindrance to personal growth.)
"They just need to get over it."
"If they can't follow the prophet, then they should leave the church."
"This is the sifting and of the wheat and the tares."
"Choose not to be offended."
In LDS culture, it is considered a commandment not to be offended. A simple request not to cling to hurt feelings turned into a complete disregard of feelings associated with pain or hurt.
I've always identified with the LDS Hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace." Most notably because it recognizes the existence of suffering:
Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When, with a wounded heart, anger, or malice
I draw myself apart searching my soul?
Where, when my aching grows?
Where, when I languish?
Where, in my need to know?
Where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Anger, malice, anguish. Feelings that when recognized, allow us to draw closer to God, the quiet hand that calms us, teaches us what we need to know, and heals our wounded hearts. Is it possible that in our desire to be faithful and not offended, we turn away from opportunities to converse with God? When we acknowledge suffering, do we allow ourselves to find answers?
According the the New Testament, when the Savior found himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, he wanted his friends to stay awake with him. He didn't feel the need to prove his faith in a time of adversity. He did not see it as a lack of faith to acknowledge his pain. He did not feel shame for questioning a very difficult plan.
The Third Noble Truth tells us that "Elimination of suffering is possible." The Fourth Noble Truth tells us that we must find "The path to the cessation of suffering."
I submit that we must find that path together. Not just by hanging ribbons, but by staying awake with our friends during the long nights of suffering. Even when those friends doubt, disagree, and force you to question your faith. After all:
"Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule. "
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."