Our cross to bear
Amanda Peña | Monday, April 13, 2015
I’ve often wondered, “What is the point of life?” It’s a centuries-old question, so it’s not like I’m asking something profound or groundbreaking. I’ve just always thought about it more often than people know. I do believe, though, that the more important question is to understand why people start asking that question in the first place, and how they continue to understand it throughout their time spent alive.
When I first started thinking about the concept of life it was because I was forced to consider death. Around the time I was nine, my cousin Alex lost his battle with leukemia at the age of 20. He was a missionary, a dreamer and had a beautiful soul with so much to offer the world. I didn’t know him all that well since I was so young, but his death affected me deeply because I saw how he impacted all of his family and friends gathered for his funeral. I asked my parents, “Why does God let good people die?” They didn’t have an answer, and I started to wonder why we have to live if we ultimately have to die. If good people always seem to be the ones to die, it made sense why the bad people didn’t care to be good.
Enter middle school: puberty, bullies, an eating disorder, life-altering issues at home and depression — the perfect recipe for a suicidal preteen. Not surprisingly, I met a lot of middle school peers experiencing similar identity crises and home issues that pushed them to develop thoughts of suicide too. We thought, “What is the point of life?” Popularity, relationships, cell phones and Myspace (yeah, let’s not forget that was a thing) seemed to occupy the majority of our minds, and I just remember it creating a lot of drama and hurting many people, myself included. What is the point of life if we spend so much energy trying to make it difficult for others to simply exist? I reached out to adults and catechists for the answers because they made all the rules. They gave out the punishments. They made the system. What did I know at 10 years old?
Kids will be kids. Boys will be boys. Tough luck. These are cop out answers to brush sprouting destructive behaviors under the rug. When a child is being bullied, or their identity is being challenged and they question their circumstances or just suffered a terrible tragedy, adults are given the chance to help make sense of the question, “What is the point of life?” for the younger generation. As an adult now, I’m starting to realize how adults know just as much as kids do when it comes to the tough questions. We’re afraid to reveal how these unanswered questions and experiences are just as difficult to deal with now as they were then. Adults have an incredible capacity to bottle things up. We suppress pain and trauma. We become addicts to substance, pornography, money and make idols of anything that quells the need to answer that age-old question, “What is the point of life?”
This year the “Show Some Skin: Tell Me More” monologues delved even deeper into the cores of the Notre Dame community, asking us to articulate our innermost thoughts, emotions and questions that we often try to seal beneath the surface of our identities. Whether it was an experience of abuse or inequality, race or gender identity, I couldn’t help but see that question lying beneath the surface of everything we are afraid to admit aloud.
At the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of broken people carrying our own crosses, trying to understand why our cross exists in the first place. We like to believe our struggle is the only one that matters, but the sheer weight of the world’s problems highlight the fact that some of us carry heavier crosses than others. But the weight isn’t the point — the fact that we all carry one is. When we fail to remember to empathize with the struggle of another, we essentially recreate the Passion. God dwells in the most vulnerable among us, as Scripture reminds us, yet we cast stones and spit at the wounded Christ while He falls under the cross of social oppression, structural violence, poverty, hunger, abuse, heartache and rejection.
How can one be pro-life if he is busy forgetting what it means just to be alive? Being pro-life requires us to constantly remember the value of not just our own lives and the lives of the unborn and elderly, but of the living. The world we create for the living is ultimately what makes life seem like a choice that needs to be made in the first place, whether for others or for ourselves. The resurrection celebrates the promise of everlasting life and asks us to prepare for the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. As Christians, if we believe that Christ truly saves us, how do we allow our brothers and sisters to come to know Him if we don’t help each other understand this in their own lives?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.