Suffering happens for us, not to us

Today an article appeared in my newsfeed titled, “Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, 39, Inspired Thousands in Health and in Sickness.” In it, I learned that Rabbi Dukes, much-loved around the world and most especially by his wife and their six children, passed away from Covid.

What I found most striking was this interview the rabbi gave in August. Upon recovering from months in a coma, Rabbi Dukes spoke over a video call about his experiences and was honest about the excruciating physical pain he faced in addition to the anguish of being separated from his family.

When the interviewer asked how he finds meaning amidst all his limitations, Rabbi Dukes answered:

First of all, I plan on getting better, so this is just a temporary stage I need to get through so that I can get back to doing what I have been doing all along.

But until that happens I keep a very positive attitude. I see my stay here like an amusement park. Every bump in the road is a roller coaster I get to experience. My perspective is that nothing happens to you, they happen for you.

That last sentence is what strikes me: that Rabbi Dukes found meaning in seeing his suffering as something that happened for him, not to him.

How is this possible?

A friend of mine shared the quotation by Paul Elie, “A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story.”

Even without knowing much about Rabbi Dukes, it is clear that living his life in the light of a story – the story of the Bible – enabled him to maintain his positive attitude that, even if he would not see the fulfilment of his own plans or hopes, there was providence in the story.

He wanted his last words to be the encouragement to believe more. “Believe in ourselves, believe in our loved ones, believe in our communities and believe in G‑d.”

When it seems that suffering is something that only happens to us, reminding ourselves that we live lives in the light of a story – as creatures who know not its unfinished meaning – can restore our sense of the meaningfulness of the suffering that happens for us (and others) as part the journey when we are on the way.

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