The suffering of the world looms large and it’s painfully obvious to her that even if she were to volunteer her every waking hour, she still couldn’t alleviate but a miniscule portion of it.

My daughter Marina is a 20-year old singer and composer. She is a feisty and passionate young woman who loves pouring out her heart and soul in her songs. More often than not she is head-over-heels in love with music, romance, big and small wonders of nature, her own creative urges, life itself.

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But every Wednesday, when she takes a particular subway to a particular part of town, to her voice coach’s apartment, she comes back deflated. Buenos Aires is a modern, stylish city, shot through with the paradox of most urban centers: in between the bustling theatres and museums, the beautiful parks and glamorous bistros, there are people living and begging in darkened corners whom no one wants to look at.

But Marina doesn’t have the luxury of not looking. She looks, she sees, and her heart aches for every one of them. The fact that for the last three years she has struck deep and enduring bonds volunteering on Saturday afternoons with underprivileged children does nothing to alleviate her distress. The suffering of the world looms large and it’s painfully obvious to her that even if she were to volunteer her every waking hour, she still couldn’t alleviate but a miniscule portion of it.

One woman in particular gnaws at Marina most ferociously. Blind and mentally ill, the woman begs at the subway exit in a ceaseless litany; day after day inhabiting a life that seems little more than a bottomless well of longing and need.

It’s hard to comfort my daughter when she comes back from these outings. I too feel the pain of the world, and at her age I also felt it was all too much. For several years I rallied behind every cause, felt personally responsible for halting nuclear warfare, the mistreatment of animals, abuse against women and so many other ills. Then, I was slowly abducted by the needs of my adulthood: choosing a career, building a relationship, loving and losing loved ones, becoming a mother, growing into myself.

Sure enough, the world is as deeply in pain as ever. But, surprisingly, it is equally steeped in joy.

The world’s suffering didn’t go exactly go out of focus during that time, but it was mostly centered on those closest to me: my family members, my friends, my workmates, and three or four strangers with whom I came in contact on a daily basis. I suppose that was all that I could handle “seeing” during those demanding years.

Now that I am approaching middle age, I seem to have given myself permission to open up the lens and look at a bigger world once again.

Sure enough, the world is as deeply in pain as ever. But, surprisingly, it is equally steeped in joy. Why didn’t I see that before? I suppose life is wise that way: it forges us in the fires of hardship and injustice before it grants us the grace to see the whole, complex, rich enigma that is life, and most peculiarly human life.

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How is it that we can be lost in our existential angst one moment and lost in laughter over the smallest absurdity a moment later? How can our heart bear the anticipated sorrow of one day parting with our loved ones, and then rejoice at the exuberance of grass on a sunny summer day? How is it possible that we, the same creatures who created the atom bomb, can paint lilies like Monet, string together the music of the heavens and commit awesome acts of kindness like it’s all in a day’s work?

But the question remains: what are we to do with the suffering of the world? Or, even, with our own?

The answer is that we are part of the complexity, and there’s no way of sifting out the bad from the good or the messy from the tidy that doesn’t leave us somehow diminished. We may still rage against the extremities of evil, but in the back of our minds we wonder: if we didn’t know we were capable of making such terrible decisions, would our wise and compassionate ones be as moving? If we didn’t know we could lose it all in an instant, would the beauty around us pierce us so powerfully?

But the question remains: what are we to do with the suffering of the world? Or, even, with our own?

Marina and I will soon be embarking on a project to help youngsters in a disadvantaged neighborhood close to our home to find and follow their vocation. It is a small but long dreamed-of project for both of us. I am relying on the vigor of her years to guarantee that we will see it through, no matter what obstacles we may encounter. And I am hoping that whatever equanimity I have acquired in my own years will help us remain modest in our aspirations. I know we will receive as much as we give (most likely more), and I know that we will make but the slightest dent on the needs of that neighborhood, let alone the world.

But somehow, that’s not the sole purpose for me anymore. Today I feel that this project, or any other, is destined to fail if it’s not about sharing the joy at least as much as it is about alleviating the pain – the gratefulness as much as the suffering. How could we truly honor life if our dream were not, ultimately, about being able to rejoice together?

And those darkened corners, those that no human efforts will ever completely banish…can we stand there in our common grief and in the comfort of each other’s love, and give thanks for the bonds that sustain us? The true meeting of hearts may be all the light we need.


Stories of Grateful Living
Articles
Fabiana Fondevila

Fabiana Fondevila

About the author

Fabiana Fondevila is a writer and teacher from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her latest book, “Where Wonder Lives: Practices for Cultivating the Sacred in Your Daily Life” was published in February 2021. Fabiana teaches online workshops and seminars on living a life of awe and radical aliveness. You can learn more about her offerings at FabianaFondevila.com. She is also a founding member of Vivir Agradecidos, our organizational partner in Argentina.