Written by AliceAnn Mosiniak
I remember going to school and wondering why I wasn’t dead yet. We had been driving when we saw an ambulance rushing through the cars that were stopped bumper to bumper, moving at a pace that could give the slowest snail a first-place medal. My friend that was driving was a very pretty girl, youthful with a good heart and a horrible Napoleon complex. She had awful road rage probably rooted from a lack of maturity. She drove aggressively and yelled at anyone who got in her way or caused her to go just a single mile slower than she wanted. I hated that. I never understood why we were always going so fast, what was the rush?
Every time my parents saw an ambulance or a fire truck, they always said a little prayer, asking for the safe travels of the first responders and the safety of those in harm’s way. They have done that for as long as I could remember. When my friend began to describe the inconvenience of the accident, all I remember saying is, “someone’s life could have just ended, that could have been us instead.” I don’t remember what happened after that. I can only assume we sat in awkward silence for the rest of the ride, or we didn’t talk about anything worth remembering.
At the time, we both went to a fine arts highschool. I remember sitting on the smooth, empty hardwood floor of the dance studio, once again in silence. My mind began to wander. Why weren’t we in that accident? The number of days that we spent traveling 30 miles over the regulated speed limit, zigzagging between the spaces of cars that probably shouldn’t have fit the size of the one we were in. Why was it that two reckless teens had better luck than someone who had been driving for years? Now, I’m not sure that anyone died in that car accident, but the thought of it sat awkwardly in the pit of my stomach.
My heart went to the memory of my uncle Steve who passed away in the same way. To this day, I don’t really know what happened. I do know however that it was not suicide. They said that he had hit a concrete pillar that holds up the highway, and they questioned if he had pulled the wheel himself. In the end they decided this was not true, and just chalked it up to a literal accident. Nothing hurts worse than a question mark written next to suicide on your deceased uncle’s police report. He had not decided his own fate. That was chosen for him. His death was sudden and unsettling. That day, one or two days before my birthday was one of the worst days of my family’s life. We were supposed to be celebrating, and instead, we were grieving. We had been met with death for one of the first times.
I remember feeling somewhat disconnected. Disconnected from what, I’m not sure. It wasn’t until I started my driver’s ed training that I truly felt impacted by his death. His memory looming in the back of my head as my hands gripped the steering wheel. I sat, looking at the deserted highschool parking lot and the Voice in the back of my head softly asked, “why not you too? Why do you get to choose your fate?”
About three months ago, our fate changed again for the worst. I never understood the weight that cancer has on a person. You always hear stories of kids meeting their heroes after they get diagnosed, and in some sick way, we envy them. You see stories of triumph, but no one will ever be able to empathize with you until it happens to a parent, or themselves. The pain of watching someone walking closer to their coming days is absolutely indescribable. People always see the good that comes from the bad, the kind people reaching out, giving presents, and cooking meals; but no one ever talks about the turmoil and anger you have towards your God for not healing your mom. No one ever talks about the guilt and desperation that they carry by watching and wishing that they were the ones suffering if it would completely heal their mother, especially during the COVID-19 global health crisis.
No one talks about how you’ll feel when you’re denied entry into the hospital to see her after surgery. No one ever talks about how far away you feel because you literally can’t get near her out of fear you’ll make her sick from a demon virus and kill her that way instead. No one talks about the way you can’t fully tell her story, because you couldn’t be there to see and experience it with her. No one ever talks about the fear that, even if she was to be healed, it could come back even stronger than before. That fear never leaves for as long as she may live. The memory of her is fresh in my mind. She’s youthful, smiling, and full of life. I see the mom that used to sing me awake and dance around the kitchen while she cleaned. It’s shocking to see that memory challenged by a woman who is tired, and drained.
I used to pray at night that I could trade places with her. That I could be the one inching away from youth and life. I will be more likely to bounce back. I’ll be moving away, I could hide it from them, relieve them of some of their pain. I never understood why it wasn’t me instead. The world can not give me the answer that my grief tortures me with daily. My mom is a fighter, and everyone made sure that she knows it. She has the determination of a mule and was the first one to teach me that feelings are not for sharing with everyone. She is the first to give to others, and not take for herself. She is quiet and likes to work in silence. She is a mystery to most, and a friend to few. She doesn’t trust easily and won’t reach out first. Cancer just added to her internal nature and made it hard for even me to support her. I was never in the loop, an outsider in my mother’s world. When we found out that, after empty promises from the doctors, my mom would have to go through chemo and radiation therapy, I cried for what felt like days. When my mom saw me, she said in a voice echoed by the Holy Spirit, “That just means there is someone out there I have to meet.” I remember thinking, “why couldn’t you just meet them at a park, or in the aisle at a grocery store?” As trivial as these thoughts may seem outside of my own mind, they were all feeding off of the anger and fear of the devil in my mind. I was sick of the faith-based positivity.
It wasn’t until I moved into my freshman dorm that I realized that she was right. I would have given my life up for hers in an instant, and I took my life for granted, all because I didn’t want to see her suffering. But what is life without suffering? If we face no trials we take no chances. I was wishing to take her story away from her.
We constantly have thoughts of death, some of us fear it, some of us wish for it. But sometimes I wonder why we shy away from the privilege of living. We are creatures made to be, to experience, to love, to mourn. We seek so desperately for meaning. Maybe that’s why we long to ease others of their suffering. I want to mean something more to you. I want to save you. Play God and ease you towards a sense of mercy. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be on the other side of that car accident, wishing I had someone to pass my pain onto, but until then, I look on to my life with grace and thanksgiving, because I have something that the world needs, even if I struggle to see it.
My mother’s suffering is valuable. She will learn new lessons, find peace in the storm, and learn a new trust in the Lord. I will be here. Not affected directly but able to share my own suffering in a way. I may be able to offer up a story. A story that some are afraid to tell, a story of pain that has no real description.
Maybe suffering leads to connection in ways that I would have never understood before. In the Catholic church, it is said that all of the saints came from different backgrounds, different levels of intelligence, and different levels of purity. The one thing that pulls them all together is suffering. There is something beautiful in pain. So deep and impactful. Why would we wish not to feel? Why would we wish to turn away from the tragic? We turn away because it scares us, yet we long for suffering when it comes into close contact. It pushes us into a cycle of desperation but in that, we learn to trust. We learn how to trust others. How to open up when we feel like we can’t. Confide in those who have similar stories. We pick them apart and compare them. We understand the unspoken. We find comfort knowing we do not suffer alone. We reach out to those we may never have because we empathize with them. We, in a way, work to take their suffering away when we share these stories. We give them a voice.
On my darkest night, when I’m praying that I could trade places with the suffering, asking, “Why not me?” a Voice whispers in my ear,
“What’s the rush? You serve a purpose the world will see soon.”