Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Perspectival Parable

This past Thursday, my wife, the beautiful Mrs. Monk, lost her engagement ring and wedding band. Even though I'm pretty sure diamond rings are a bad idea, my wife is rather attached to hers, so this loss distressed her--especially since we are not currently in a position to replace said rings. After searching frantically for 36 hours, she was ready to give up hope. Since I wasn't nearly so attached to the ring, it was much easier for me to remain steadfast in the belief that we would eventually find it (which we did).

Reflecting on this experience helped me to reevaluate my own, rather nagging anxieties about finding a job. I am lucky in that I know--with 100% certainty--that I will eventually be able to find a job, even if I have to wait longer than expected to do so. And yet, each day that passes without that magical phone call from a future employer leaves me feeling like my wife at the end of those 36 hours: if I haven't heard from them/found my ring by now, it will never happen. Indulging such thoughts is ultimately a fruitless exercise in depression and self-imposed suffering, but we all find ourselves doing something like this in our lives.

Now, let me be the first to say that my wife's anxiety over her ring, and my worrying over a job are not great moments of suffering. Nonetheless, I think that they are typical--in a minor way-- of the experience that we all have of wondering when a given trial will end and why we have to suffer so long, whether that suffering is great or little, mental, emotional, or physical. Such questions might be most heart wrenching when we are not the ones suffering, when we observe the suffering of a small child or a loved one. These experiences leave us asking why. Why must we suffer? Why must even the innocent suffer? And why must the suffering last so long? When a woman recently asked me those questions, I told her the following story:

"I once knew a little girl who loved her mother very much. When the mother made soup in the kitchen, the daughter would find an empty bowl and a spoon so that she too could 'make soup.' When the mother sat down to answer her email at the computer, the daughter would pull a broken, old keyboard from the toy chest and tap away with her fingers so that she too could 'write email.' When the mother nursed her infant son, the daughter would find a baby doll and stuff it under her shirt so that she too could 'feed the baby.' In most of these activities, of course, the daughter only pretended to do the things that her mother did. She could not really make soup, or write on the computer, or nurse a baby. She was only a child, not a mature woman.

"The daughter wanted very much to be like her mother, and every Sunday she would watch her mother prepare for church. She was especially fascinated by the earrings that hung from her mother's ears, and she wished very badly that she too could wear earrings to church. The mother explained that the daughter could only wear earrings if she first experienced the pain of having her ears pierced with a needle. The daughter nodded her head solemnly, affirming that she understood the pain associated with the procedure and still wished to have her ears pierced so that she could wear earrings like her beloved mother.

"The mother knew, of course, that her daughter did not really understand; only the experience itself could teach her the pain associated with piercing. But because she respected her daughter's agency and because she was pleased with her daughter's desire to be and look like her, she took the little girl to have her ears pierced. As the man bored through her earlobes with a piece of sharp steel, the daughter cried out in pain. Her earlobes throbbed, and she struggled to remember why she had volunteered to experience such a painful procedure--all the more so when her newly pierced ears were covered with tape to prevent the wounds from becoming infected. For the next few days she continued to be distracted by pain, but when Sunday morning arrived and she watched her mother prepare for church, she excitedly reached up to touch her own ears, remembering that this was the day that she could remove the protective tape from her earlobes--which no longer hurt quite so badly. After she stripped the tape from her ears, she stood beside her mother, looked into the mirror at their matching gold studs, and smiled. In this one thing, she was now, and would be for the rest of her life, exactly like her mother."

From an eternal perspective, our mortal existence--however painful it might be--is even briefer than the painful moment in which an ear is pierced. "But a small moment" indeed. And because we elected to experience "all these things," we will become like our heavenly parents: beautiful as they are beautiful, wise as they are wise.


Jo Jo said...

I was very sad when I lost my ring. I'm siding with your wife on this one. But, point well taken. And, As is my husband. Sometimes it's just a matter of personality and timing.

Jenny said...

Such a beautiful post, Zach.