Suffering, Emmett Till Lessons

Suffering, Pain, Emmett Till, Lessons

The Unbearable

What is unbearable is not to suffer but to be afraid of suffering. To endure a precise pain, a definite loss, a hunger for something one knows—this it is possible to bear. One can live with this pain. But in fear there is all the suffering of the world: to dread suffering is to suffer an infinite pain since one supposes it unbearable.

Louis Evely, Suffering

Emmett Till was a 14 year African American from Chicago who wrongly was accused of flirting with a white woman in a grocery store while visiting the Mississippi Delta in 1955 who was then lynched and brutally murdered. His mutated body became the cornerstone of the civil rights movement particularly after the acquittal of the killers. When his mother was approached by the funeral director to try cosmetically to change his massively disfigured face and body, she would not change a thing. She wanted the world to see in that open casket service what had been done to her son.

We had the opportunity to visit the African American museum in Washington DC last week with our grandchildren. The Emmett Till exhibit is still the most crowded part of the museum.  I kept remembering, by his wounds we are healed ( Isaiah 53:5).  This was a horrific event, but one woman, a mother, had the courage to make a statement about wounds. She wanted the rest of the world to see the ending, the fruit of racial bias, hatred, and injustice. Hopefully this could also be the beginning of the end.

The Emmett Till story is a disturbing beyond belief message about racial prejudice, but its stark lesson opened many eyes to the injustice. We all learned a great deal from this painful event, even though our agony was not of the magnitude of the suffering of his family. If we open our ears and our eyes, God will teach us so much in our pain about parts of ourselves, parts of others, parts of the world, but especially about parts of our soul. This is our constant question in spiritual direction. What can we learn about our soul, the Christ within us, from our suffering instead of fearing it, of  trying to ignore it or fixing up this pain cosmetically?