a picture of leaf
Photo by Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

The Coexistence of Suffering and Joy

Upon the birth of my son, my grandfather, in his early nineties at the time, sent one of his famously pithy notes to me. He simply wrote, “Your education is just beginning. Have fun! xo, Grandpa.” This forecast turned out to be as accurate as it was concise, however unexpected. He had been the editor of the financial pages of a midsized city newspaper in 1929 when my dad, his first child, was born. This couldn’t have been an occupation that portended “fun” at that time. But despite the challenges in his life (like the last pandemic and the Great Crash and Depression), he did have a lot of fun — for 98 years. Though he could be stern, he would more often seem delighted — with simple things and every person, most especially in a 90-year love affair with his second-grade sweetheart, even after the heartbreak of outliving both of their children. He was a serious and funny person, filled with love and with pain.

Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones and her grandfather when she was a baby
Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones and her grandfather when she was a baby

Our new liturgical and calendar years have barely just begun, and we have already witnessed the kind of drama and trauma that is seldom seen across several generations. And there’s lots of talk about “legacy” right now. We wonder what this portends for our and our children’s futures. Who are the trustworthy prophets for us? Who should we follow?

In our readings this Sunday, God calls Jonah and, in the Psalm, God is called upon for help. In the Gospel, John the baptizer is dragged away as a political agitator while Jesus continues his recruitment, calling on ordinary, uneducated laborers for his movement. What made Jonah relent and the Ninevites repent? Why would those backwater fishermen drop their nets and follow Jesus? How does one person become radicalized for love and another for destruction?

Often, in times of strife, we turn to God, via our ancient ancestors and prophets, for survival guidance and clues about the big picture. But in times of ease and comfort, we tend to credit ourselves. My grandpa modeled for me the coexistence of suffering and joy — the fully human condition into which God calls us over and over. What will our children and their descendants learn from us?

Kathryn Carroll
Program Manager
Children & Families