Colbert, Suffering, and Gratitude

Mavis!-Kimberly_Cecchini-088 by Montclair Film Festival
Colbert listens to a question at the Montclair Film Festival

“I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

….Wait, what?!

Stephen Colbert said this in a recent interview with GQ Magazine. Turns out, when he was 10 years old two of his brothers and his father were killed in a plane crash. That is tragic, but it isn’t the end of the story. Colbert goes on to describe his feelings about this tragedy.

Years later while out for a walk, he realized that he was grateful for his life. All of it. Colbert is clear to distinguish that he didn’t want the event to happen, nor would ever have wanted it to happen, but it is his reality. It did happen.

“I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

This is a  statement of a person who has grappled with their personal history; eventually accepting a reality that simply is. Thanks to his faith, his mother, and a mentor, he eventually saw all of life as a gift.

Perhaps Colbert’s interview hit me so hard because it reminds me so vividly of my past summer.

This summer I worked as a hospital chaplain. My ministry consisted of entering a room where someone’s vulnerability was totally exposed and listening to them share about it. All I could do was hope they would let me share their burden for a short time. Some did, some didn’t.

A visit to one particular couple stands out. Nothing unusual for the hospital – a husband sitting in a chair in the corner, and his wife, the patient, on the bed, weak and fragile. Though she could barely say a complete sentence without having to pause for breath, she spent the first 20 minutes telling me how wonderful life is. Not was, but is. She expressed simple gratitude for being created, how her life has happened, and her relationship with God. I was so amazed by what she was telling me and by her profound gratitude that I asked her to pray for me, instead of offering to pray for her. She did and then told me, “You’re welcome” with that tone of someone who is sincerely grateful to be of service.  

She did ask a favor in return. She asked that I say a prayer for her husband… who has terminal cancer.

This statement shocked me. I had spoken to him earlier and he never expressed any sense that he too was suffering. Everything he had expressed had been quiet gratitude for the care and attention both he and his wife had received. He was just as peaceful and grateful as she was. They had grown to this point together. Amazing. I said a prayer. It wasn’t hard to feel moved in their presence.

Colbert mentions in his interview that “Tragedy is sacred… People’s suffering is sacred.” That the couple I met was suffering is obvious. That their suffering is sacred was undoubtable.

Many years, many experiences, and many influences helped Colbert slowly heal from the wounds he had experienced in his own life. The couple I met felt like living examples of people who are living joyfully amid an awareness of their own suffering. I don’t think that experiences of hurt really ever ‘go away’, but I do think that we can learn to live with them joyfully. We can learn to live out of gratitude for so much that is, rather than so much that may have been.

“I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

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Cover image courtesy Flickr CC user montclairfilmfest, found here.

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