When my first husband and I started dating, I realized very early on that I had a decision to make. I knew that he had cancer, and I knew that his prognosis wasn’t good, although there were still treatments that had yet to be tried. He had hesitated for months before asking me out, because he wasn’t sure that he was in a position to be dating anyone. In the end, though, he decided that that was a decision that I needed to make for myself, so he asked me out. I surprised myself by saying yes, and then I was even more surprised by how much I enjoyed our dates. I remember after we had gone out on a couple of dates realizing that if I dated him for much longer, I could potentially fall in love with him, which could potentially lead to a great deal of suffering. I also realized that it was early enough in our relationship that I could just walk away, and there would be relatively little suffering involved with that.
As I thought about it, however, I realized that if I walked away because I was afraid of suffering, of being hurt, that I would be making a mistake. I realized that if I spent my whole life trying to avoid suffering, then I would never truly live. Many of the most beautiful things in life inherently involve a great deal of suffering, as well as a great deal of joy — friendship, motherhood, marriage, just to name a few. If you close yourself off to the suffering, then you also close yourself off to the joy. So, I made the decision that I only wanted to walk away from dating Peter if it turned out that we weren’t a good match, not because I was afraid of what the future might bring.
The future did bring suffering, since Peter died a few weeks before our first anniversary, but it brought an immense amount of joy too. There are some decisions in life that I might do over again given the chance, but dating and marrying Peter isn’t one of them. I became a much better woman through being married to him and grieving him, than I was before I met him.
Before I met Peter, I think that I was more likely to make decisions based on reducing the amount of suffering that I would experience as a result of the decision. Now I wonder what possible joys I missed out on by making those kinds of decisions. I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating that everyone should go out and specifically add suffering to his or her life. Many of the saints have counseled against that, and have noted that generally suffering will come to us, we don’t need to go out and find it ourselves. Nor am I claiming that I joyfully embrace suffering in all situations (I think that my husband and children can attest to that!). I do think that I need a reminder, though, that some of the hardest experiences in my life have been the ones that brought me the most joy.