Tutored by Tragedy


No other single event can change a man like the death of a child. I know because I lost my first son in 1988. In Dr. John Barger’s case, this dramatic event was preceded by his wife’s excruciatingly difficult delivery complete with a placenta that was torn loose and ensuing hemorrhaging. The result was that the baby was still-born baby. He describes the event and how it impacted him with these words:

“At two in the morning in a stark, bright hospital delivery room, I held in my left hand my tiny lifeless son, and stared in disbelief at his death. I had the power to make [my family’s] lives worse by raging against my baby’s death and my wife’s lack of love, or to make their lives better by learning to love them properly. I had to choose. And it was a clear choice, presented in an instant as I stared at my tiny, helpless, stillborn infant cradled in my hand. In that crucial instant, with God’s grace, I chose the arduous, undramatic, discouraging path of trying to be good. I don’t have time to tell you of all the afflictions we endured in the next four years: sick children, my mother’s sudden death, my losing my job as a teacher, three more miscarriages, and finally a secret sorrow that pierced both of us to the very core of our beings.

In the midst of these many afflictions, I found that the only way I could learn to love, and to cease being a cause of pain, was to suffer, endure, and strive every minute to repudiate my anger, my resentment, my scorn, my jealousy, my lust, my pride, and my dozens of other vices. I began holding my tongue. I started admitting my faults and apologizing for them. I quit defending myself when I was judged too harshly, for the important thing was not to be right but to love. And frankly, once I started listening to Susan, once I began really hearing her and drawing her out, I was startled at how many and how deep were her wounds and her sorrows.

Most were not sorrows unique to Susan. They were the sorrows that all feel: sorrows that arise from the particular physiology of women and from their vocation as mothers, which gives them heavy duties and responsibilities while leaving them almost totally dependent on men for their material well-being and their spiritual support; sorrows that arise from loving their husbands and children intensely, but not being able to keep harm from those they love; sorrows that arise from the fact that in our society even the most chaste of women are regularly threatened by the lustful stares, remarks, and advances of men; and sorrows that arise because our society in general still considers women stupid, flighty, and superficial, and still places very little value on women and shows very little respect for them.

Women suffer these wounds far more often and with a greater intensity than most of us men ever realize. And unless we ask them, women generally do not speak to us of these sorrows, perhaps because we men so often dismiss their troubles as insignificant or write off women themselves as simply weak and whiny. Can men withdraw the sword of sorrow that pierces every woman’s heart? I don’t think so. Their problems are generally not the kind that have a solution, but rather form the very fabric of their daily existence.

One of my friends, when confronted at the end of a long workday with his wife’s complaints about the noise, the troubles, and the unending housework, snapped back at her in exasperation: “Well, do you want me to stay home and do the housework while you go off to the office?” You understand his point: He couldn’t solve her problems. What did she want him to do? I’ll tell you. She wanted him to listen, to understand, and to sympathize. She wanted him to let her know that despite her problems, her exhaustion, her dishevelment, he loved her; to let her know that it caused him sorrow that she was suffering and that if it were possible, he would change it for her.”

These words pierce the heart. They ought to be read by every married men and women everywhere. He goes on to describe how through three years of hard work, he was finally able to draw his wife’s love out again, only to have tragedy struck like a thief in the night. More on that later.

Ivanildo C. Trindade

Advertisements