A few years ago, I started receiving a visitor at my door. There were other visitors like him, but he was different. My visitor’s name is Theo, and Theo is a Jehovah’s Witness. Normally, when a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on my door they ask a couple of questions and then run away. I’m not kidding about the running part. “Yes, I think that evolution is true,” and “actually, I’m an atheist,” are the answers that terrify them the most. But Theo did not run. The elderly, African-American man who always dressed in a dapper suit and matching fedora appeared to be more curious than scared.
As I normally do with those I know little about, I listened as he shared his “truth” with me. I also spent time researching what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, the facts about their religion, how it came to be, how it is different from other religions and also its faults. I listened to his words repeatedly. I answered his leading questions honestly and intently.
“Wouldn’t you agree that….”
“No, I wouldn’t and here is why.”
I tried to engage him on a personal level many times but I was only successful when he visited me alone. On one occasion he admitted to lying to me in defense of his religion (they are encouraged to do so if needed) and spoke of the great pain he felt when he was disfellowshipped by his parents when he was a young adult. But after that encounter he never visited me alone again. There has always been another Jehovah’s Witness with him, watching and listening.
Every time that I have seen him since he has stuck to his “script” and answers my questions without actually answering them at all. What I have noticed over the past year or so is that his view of our world is pessimistic at best. Everything is in chaos. Everyone is evil. Tragedy is everywhere, all the time. All any of us can hope for is the salvation that the “Great Tribulation” will bring. Only then can we hope for any true peace and only God can give it. There will be no pain, no suffering, no hate, no fear. Who wouldn’t want that?
I can get philosophical at this point about the relationship of things in our universe and how, for a thing to exist, its opposite must exist as well. Therefore, there cannot be “good” in this world without “evil”. I could argue that we would not know what “good” was without something to compare it to. I can go theistic with my argument as well. My husband pointed out that even in heaven, the place where there should only be “good”, there was also “evil”, i.e. the envy and greed which inspired Lucifer to turn from God. But, I’m not gonna go there.
What I will argue is this: The suffering that we endure in our lives is necessary. Without it, we will not grow, we will not change, we will not learn and we will not know gratitude or empathy.
The abuse that I have suffered in my life showed me how not to treat others. Overcoming that abuse gave me the strength to break the cycle that is often passed down from one generation to the next. I am grateful that my life is now void of abuse and for my ability to see the warning signs in others who are in need of help.
Every toe I have stubbed, every child I have birthed, every virus I have caught has caused me pain. But I have learned to be careful, felt the flood of love that comes with bringing life into this world and my immune system has grown stronger and will protect me in the future.
Every single relationship I’ve lost, financial trouble I’ve had, mistake I’ve made, loved one I’ve grieved for, muscle I’ve hurt, wrong thing I’ve said and sorrow I’ve bore have laid the path that I walk on, brick by brick. It is because of those struggles in life that I am the person who I am today, the one that is writing this, here and now.
It is human nature to solve problems in our lives. Even having no problems seems to be a problem for us and many of us create unnecessary problems just to have something to solve. It is how we move forward in our existence. It is how we find meaning and define ourselves.
Just as the pain of childbirth led me to a new experience of what love is, all of my failures, disappointments and wrong turns have taken me to a place of certainty, wisdom and happiness. I learned from all of my wrong choices how to make the right choices. I learned my limitations and when to push myself. I learned what is truly important to me by getting through all of the shit in this world that isn’t.
Our struggles and the act of persevering despite the odds against us are what has brought humanity to the point where we are now. We have never stopped evolving. Are we perfect? Certainly not. If we were, what would there be to live for? What would life be about? There would be no need for new ideas or the pursuit of new goals. There would be no need for new experiences or even remembering the old ones. Without “evil,” without pain, without suffering, there would be no choice. No reason to choose better. Life itself is a choice that we all must make. And to take that choice away is to deprive us of our very existence.
So, Theo can keep his dream of a world without pain and suffering. His view does nothing to change anything for the better and, in fact, it is his hope that our world is as chaotic as possible in order to fulfill his believed Biblical prophecies.
I, on the other hand, will accept the pain for what it is, embrace the choices that I have and continue to grow every single day because of it. It will strengthen me, guide me, challenge me and polish me. I will continue to climb the mountain of struggle and my legs will be stronger for it. I will continue to hope for more and at the same time be grateful for what I have. I will love this experience called life and all it encompasses for it is precious and not guaranteed but oh, so very worth it.