My new favorite word is suffering. I endeavor to use it in my writing and in everyday life as much as possible. This is because I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s delicious novel quartet, which recounts the tale of a complex friendship between two women from a very young age into their sixties. The story takes place in Naples, Italy. The neighborhood is run down, the girls’ clothing, drab; but the characters’ emotions are so alive! And the narrator’s repeated use of the word suffering strikes such a chord.
The protagonist brings to life her best friend, a fantastically drawn character, whose intense ideas and shocking acts she often interprets as a lack of devotion. This causes the narrator to suffer. As a good book can, it rouses experiences from my own life–a friend who failed to support me at a crucial time; a definitive silence, enduring indifference. Yeah, that’s how I was affected. I suffered!
Although the indigent, today’s Syrian refugees, and bereaved families experience true suffering, we all know that miseries of the heart often inflict wounds that can inscribe and etch themselves into the tissue of our very selves. Man, that sounds dramatic. But it’s true. And I’m only up to Book Two!
The first book is titled My Brilliant Friend, which my husband is now enjoying too; the second book is The Story of a New Name. Schoolgirl crushes, bad guys and neighborhood intrigue involving lunacy, beatings, murder and poetry fuel what turn out to be everyday emotions that, when revisited, could more accurately be labeled suffering.
That time my girlfriend of fifteen years stopped talking to me without explanation. Her reasons traveled with her to her grave. I suffered from that. And then there was that former soulmate, who went around telling World Trade Center-tall tales about me. When we broke up, my heartsickness settled in for a long, long while. I can only describe that sorrow as suffering. By the time her rumors came to light, I didn’t even care anymore, thank goodness! Nevertheless, it’s impossible for me to forget how I vowed to never let anyone else in. And how I reversed course, only to be disappointed again. This is life–joy, pain, learning, forgetting, and starting all over again.
Although I am happy not to claim suffering as an overriding constant in my life, I love it when it kidnaps me for a time. Because it whips up all this deep stuff that makes me feel in a real way. It takes you beyond your petty, superficial worries into a tough place that makes you consider and re-evaluate yourself, your motives and proclivities. And that’s good stuff.
I hate it when I suffer. But I love it too. Does that make me a drama queen? Perish the thought.