The Buddha’s First Noble Truth is that life is suffering; through birth, aging, sickness and death we experience suffering. He claimed this truth is actual and unerring–there is no escape from this basic reality. To deny it or pretend otherwise is the Cause of Suffering, the Second Noble truth. The good news comes in the Third Noble truth where he states that there is a way to release your attachment to this cycle of suffering and the Fourth Noble truth speaks of this way called the Eightfold Path. (Buddhists love to number everything for some reason). Buddha was even specific about the kinds of suffering we experience. There is your basic, garden-variety suffering: you got a parking ticket or you had a fight with a loved one or your clothes don’t fit anymore—that sort of thing. Then there is suffering upon suffering. This is when you have a fight with a love one which makes you late to get to your car so you get a parking ticket which makes you late for work so you lose your job and then spiral into a depression—that sort of snow-ball suffering. Then there is suffering-in-the-making. This is when life is good and you’re happy and you want things to always be this way, but alas, circumstances change and you find yourself suffering the loss of something you loved and wanted forever. This is the hangover after the party suffering. (Ironically, Buddhists are quite a happy bunch, despite all this talk of suffering.)
Where am I going with this?
If Buddha had been a mother, there might have been mention of a 4th type of suffering: the suffering of a mother witnessing her sick child. Isa has the very first cold of his life and I’m a wreck. He literally has the sniffles and I’m crying buckets over it. I know that ultimately he’ll be fine (he even smiled and laughed a bit today, but is far from his usually jolly self), but his little labored breath and sneezes have unnerved me to the core. My good friend Mick, mother of Elva age 1 ½, assured me that my tears were normal. She said she was a mess through all of Elva’s first sicknesses too. Its nature’s way of assuring that you’ll stop at nothing to give this child the help and comfort he/she needs to survive—you know, evolution baby. His Aunt Feezy really hit it on the head when she pointed out that while they may be only sniffles now, they represent all the perils of the outside world beyond my arms. That’s exactly how I feel.
Someone asked me recently how it feels to be a first-time mom. My response was that with Isa’s birth my heart cracked wide open with a love I had never known before. Now with his first sickness, that cracked open heart is splintering into tiny pieces. There’s nothing to be done about it—it just is. My heart will forever live outside my body now that Isa is in the world and that’s just how I want it. The vulnerability that allows me to feel the elation of his laughs opens me to the suffering of his cries as well and I grateful for it all. As the Buddha said, we can not live without suffering, but when our hearts are open to fully accept this, there is room for so much incredible joy too.