Our world is large. Billions of others are living as you read these words. Each one of them, though from remarkably different backgrounds, is strangely similar. They all have hopes and dreams, fears and desires. They all live-and they all die. They all laugh-and they all suffer. Yet out of these experiences suffering is the greatest-for in suffering our true humanity is revealed.
Do not confuse the greatness of Suffering with the greatness of love. They are both great in different ways. Love is the greatest emotion. Suffering the result of any emotion. Love is the only force that really drives us onward, that fire inside of us that gives us life. But love adds to our thoughts, it deceives us. Suffering is different. Suffering rips off the masks. It shows us reality.
Everyone knows this reality because everyone suffers. Suffering does not practice segregation; it puts us all in the same position. Suffering is the great reception hall of all peoples. To enter this room we must shrug off the material world and stand naked.
We then find ourselves in a new world. A world where the things society values are meaningless. A world where the clothes we wear or the car we drive really does not matter. A world where what we are loses its meaning-and who we are makes itself known. When this happens no one can hide behind the facades and guises that plague our world. Sometimes what we find surprises us.
We find that people we think are worlds apart from us, really aren’t. Enemies look just like us. People of different colors and beliefs are difficult to tell apart. We all become common-we all become human.
The burial ceremony of the Austrian grand duke demonstrated this. His body was taken to the royal catechisms and a priest stood guarding the entrance. There an officer leading the pall-bearers would formally request the priest to open the door. The priest asked who they carried that was worthy enough to pass through. The officer pronounced the formal title of the grand duke (some thirty names). Yet the priest did not reply. He then called him by a lesser title, still no reply. This continued on until the officer said in an exasperated voice, “a fellow sinner like us all.” Then the priest swung open the door.
This ceremony showed that we all are equal at death (something we all must suffer). The same is true with suffering-we all suffer on the same level. Otherwise impregnable cultural walls collapse. Society and its expectations are shunned. Then we stand truly human: unarmed and fragile.
It is the most meaningful experience of humanity when we relate to someone on this level. The ability to relate to someone in their pain is the greatest ability we can posses. It is the only way to understand humanity. It is the only way to understand ourselves, for when we look into the eyes of another in pain-we see ourselves.