There is a Buddhist tale that the prominent meditation teacher and American Buddhist Lama Surya Das tells in his book “Letting Go of the Person I Used to Be” (I tried that, by the way, and it’s not all that easy):
The Buddha was once approached by a grieving mother whose little child had just died. She pleaded with him for a miracle: She begged him to restore the child to her alive and well. The Buddha listened to the bereaved woman and finally said that he would be able to do what she asked if she could bring him a mustard seed from a home that had never lost anyone to death. The mother traveled far and wide, day after day, trying to find such a home, and of course she couldn’t. Finally she returned to the Buddha and said that she had come to realize that death visits everyone. It was a reality she had to accept. And in that acceptance she found strength and consolation.
I’ve been contemplating that story ever since I ran into Sandy, a fellow preschool mom who lost her son to SIDS less than eight months ago. A day later, while vacationing with my sisters in Cedar, Michigan without high-speed Internet, we all learned about another little boy, the son of a friend of mine and my twin sister’s from high school, and the grandson of my mom’s good friend, who was killed in a boating accident. For the entire week that sad and traumatic event hung over us; much as we tried, all of us had a hard letting it go.
“I just can’t stop thinking about it,” one of us would say as she poked her head in the frig.
“I know. Me neither,” the rest of us would chime in.
“How can you possibly recover from that?” my sister said the night we heard the news. “I’d be so tempted to check myself out.”
“Considering that I was close to checking myself out for most of last year (when my kids were healthy and cute), I sure as hell hope God doesn’t pull that one on me,” I said. “I’m not sure I could handle it.”
“A Buddhist wise guy’s rendition of the First Noble Truth of dukka (dissatisfaction) is that in life pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” writes Lama Surya Das. He continues:
How much we suffer depends on us, our internal development, and our spiritual understanding and realization. Our pain and suffering point out to us where we are most attached to ourselves—our body, for example, or our loved ones; it shows us what we are holding on to the most. By recognizing this, we can learn to use loss and suffering in ways that help us grow wiser and become at peace with ourselves and the universe.
I suppose the Christian equivalent of this philosophy is Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when the disciple says, “Um … Excuse me? God? Helloooo? I don’t appreciate this THORN in my flesh!” And the faithful one hears in return, “Um …. Excuse me? Get over it! Because anything good you got going on is courtesy of that prickle. And if you haven’t noticed … everyone has one (some are just covered by tattoos).”
Translation: “Your strength is made perfect in your weakness.” And I threw in the part about everyone having one … because that, in essence, was the point of the Buddhist tale, even though I still think some have it much worse. And losing your boy in his sleep or in a boating accident, according to me, fit into the “worse” category.
Both of you, young moms, are in my prayers. God bless your boys.