Pain gives definition to life

I celebrate the anniversaries of friends whose marriage survived the dark and harrowing days after his infidelities were discovered.

I celebrate the birthdays of the son of friends whose asthma has almost taken down to the grave many times over the past two decades.

I celebrate the graduation from college of a kid I worried would never make it through high school.

In each of these cases, real pain has threatened the marriage, the life, the education that I thought would sink it. The struggle offsets the success like the night sky offsets the moon’s brightness.

Now, pain is not essential. It is possible to celebrate a marriage that hasn’t been threatened by divorce, a life that hasn’t been threatened by death, an education that took work but never veered from high marks. Struggle is common, but it isn’t required.

But even if it’s not required, pain and struggle create a depth that those who skate on the surface or bail out when the going gets rough just don’t experience to their own impoverishment.

A trip to Disneyland is nice and all, being all about thrills without risks. But the trip to Disneyland won on a radio contest by a friend’s father just months before dying of cancer is an experience with a whole new depth of meaning to it.

At the end of his novel Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland wrote:

He looked at Susan’s reflection in the black window glass. John remembered once yelling at a cameraman on a film, whom he was convinced was color-blind. During a break John went off to props and brought back with him a piece of shiny black plastic. He gave it to the cameraman, and the cameraman asked him, “What’s this for?” and John said, “It’s something Impressionist painters used to do. Whenever they were unsure of the true color of something, they’d look at its reflection in a piece of black glass. They thought that the only way they could ever see the true nature of something was to reflect it onto something dark.”

We see the true nature of our friendships, our marriages, our faiths, our families, our vocations, our nations, our churches, our souls by how they stand out against the darkness. Do they get lost in the muddiness? Do their true colors reflect back?

But before I even get to those questions, I have to answer these questions: Am I willing to stick it out through the pain to get to the point where I can see my true colors for what they are against the darkness? Or will I call it quits and wonder why life seems to lack the depth I think I want?

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