when you watch extreme mountain climbing videos every night you are bound to find morsels of wisdom and inspiration. chris, one of the denali climbers, tossed us this one: “i think it’s important to learn how to suffer gloriously.” he added he “tries to put a positive spin on all his suffering.” chosen suffering, that is, for who would doubt that there would be suffering on a climb up the highest peak on the continent. alternatively, his suffering yields reward, a summit, or, at the least, an attempted summit, traversing in elevations few have scaled.
in the early 1980s i taught music in the poorest school of a small county in florida. z was one of my students – he was in first grade. i know he suffered. his home was not far from the school campus with buildings attached by covered walkways, my music shed tucked into a swampy corner, complete with 3″ banana spiders.
z was a student who needed a lot of extra attention. he craved it. given his grave family situation, i know his heart had to be heavy, but his smile was light-itself and he loved hugs and music class. in that school, tucked into the middle of an impoverished neighborhood, where people spent days sitting on rotting porches waiting for the next day, there was much agonizing. and, clearly, a hell of a lot of surrendered acceptance. it was deeply inspiring to see children being glorious, even in the midst of hurting.
i heard somewhere along the passing years that z was in prison. i shudder to think of all who might say it was inevitable. he was truly stuck in a system that allowed very few to escape. the ‘subs’, as the area was called, was a breeding ground for glorious suffering, proud faces lined with sweat and worry, ponderous minds sorting for ways to survive.
we went back there about five years ago, drove to what-is-now a fenced-in complex and no longer a neighborhood school so i could stare for a few minutes at the old shed in the swamp. we drove around the neighborhood and stopped and got out to talk to a couple people rocking on a porch. we talked about the old school and, with shining faces, they spoke with pride about attending it. glorious faces.
when we pulled away, they went back to the chairs on the porch, under the collapsing portico away from the steamy sun and tucked into trees covered with spanish moss and yards of dry dusty dirt. still suffering.
we drove away, a few moments of silence as i took it all in. in my mind i hugged the little boy z used to be and wished for something better for him. for a summit.