Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Suffering and Perspective

I was teaching an art class at the community kitchen last week where I encountered a homely lady that changed my life. I usually go to these classes in order to offer an artist’s perspective but today mine was altered. Having been unemployed for three and a half months has been very straining. I have barely gotten by on the good graces of my friends, loved ones, and, most importantly, Jesus. A few times I have found myself humbled and broken by my situation, but how bad is my situation?

The lady, whose name to my shame I have forgotten, sat at a table with me in order to paint a picture. Over the course of her work she started telling me her story: she was in her sixties, far from home (LaFayette, Arkansas), and lonely. Her husband of nine years and the adopted father of her daughter had died in a car wreck that left her in a coma. She awoke to a period of unrest in which her daughter was fighting the US military over burial rights. Needless to say, her life was taken out from under her. But her life was more than this man: her life was her dogs.

I have never heard a person talk about animals the way this woman did. She had two champion breed dogs that were lost due to unrelated tragedies. Oh, how she loved her dogs. She nonchalantly remarked to me that losing her dogs was like losing another child. But it was not her husband, health problems, distance from home, or her dogs that taught me a life lesson: it was her smile.

She looked like a woman who had been through hell. Her teeth were rotted probably due to her long cigarette addiction and her clothes shabby as a vagabond. But though she had walked through the valley she feared no evil for her God was with her. She spoke vehemently and joyfully of her faith that had sustained her. I often pity myself for not having the money to maintain a cell phone or pay credit card bills and cry out to God for my suffering. Suffering? No, this is not suffering. I am an intelligent and ambitious man with gifts, charisma, and the whole world in front of me. I have my health, food to eat, a car to drive, people around me to love me, and even a cigarette. She had lost everything she had ever loved yet smiled at me through her three front teeth with the sweet name of Jesus on her lips. I know no suffering and I weep for my pride.

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