Life is a Big Pile of Pain — But it’s Beautiful —

Bruce Fenton

Takeaways on Suffering and Joy

‪Living at a hospital for two weeks during our sons surgery was humbling.‬

I walked the halls for hours. I saw people of every age, race and walk of life dealing with everything from the joy of a newborn to fear, to tragedy. I saw a twenty something guy with his buddies laughing as they left the ER with a simple cast, apparently over some silly minor accident. I saw a couple making a frantic mobile call, in tears, saying “Get here fast.” I saw a woman in the wee hours of the morning, ice pack over her severely bruised eye and a uniformed police officer and staff speaking with her in hushed tones. While grabbing a water in the picu I’d make eye contact with a fellow parent. I saw people who had a normal life hours earlier facing horrible pain. Their world ripped from under them in an instant.

The people in crisis are usually easy to spot. There’s a certain feel and vibe when you are anywhere near. Crying is common. I’d steer clear. They don’t notice you anyway. I didn’t focus on others and kept my head down. But I’d still overhear people making heavy calls, crying in the halls, hopeful, praying, overjoyed or thankful. The hospital isn’t a sad or negative place, more healing and serious. There is a lot of joy and thankfulness. One mom told us she just learned her daughter would never walk again — she was in good spirits and thankful because the accident could have been worse.

I walked by a department that was filled with the most elderly and ill. We should all be so fortunate to make it to where they are…having had the blessing of a long life. But even then, even the lucky eventually end up in that place, facing the end and having lost so many and experienced such suffering themselves. I wondered how many tears for lost friends and loved ones a 97 year old has shed.

I guess a key reminder might be: Everybody has got their own shit. To be human is to suffer. When you are in a hospital for an emergency no one cares how much money or how many Instagram followers you have or what college you went to. We all have suffering. Hard life or a life of privilege, we all end up there. Every one of us has likely already and at some point will be in a crisis. Everyone will face the worst fears, losses and pains. It is an inevitability of life. That’s heavy. And painful.

If we look at the hard lives that early settlers and others in history had and how they lived, we see the common themes. Life as tragedy. They might lose half their family to a winter famine, or bandit attack. They’d face brutal winters and back breaking labor. We face pollution, depression and grinding stress. They passed the time with prayer and hymns. We have Calm app and Post Malone. Art, music, books, movies are all so universally loved because it’s those things that help us pass the time…to make this burden of suffering and tragedy just a bit more bearable. Finding that joy is imperative. I had a friend once tell me that painting Warhammer 40k miniature figures honestly saved his life. He meant it. Sometimes life can be so much that distraction is all we can bear. Often the greatest art is itself borne of the artist working to escape their own misery.

All we can do in good times or the hard is keep on keepin on. And remember “hard times” will come, the phrase is as inevitable as death and taxes. We will have hard times, we will get through them and then we will die. That’s not a negative, it’s the most universal truth. It’s a reminder of how precious — and fleeting — life is. We push forward to make better lives for ourselves and those around us, we turn pain into focus, into industry and art to help others pass the time. It’s hard but it’s what we’ve got. Our connections to others, love, the drive to create and build and the art we create is so beautiful it makes it all worthwhile. These spots of joy in the world of suffering are a precious gift.

We’re all in this together.