The Meaning of Suffering

by Chris de Serres



def. – To walk slowly with heavy steps.

I knew early on that the Army wasn’t for me.  I had all sorts of romantic notions in my head of what it was like to be a paratrooper.  On a good day, I actually lived that childhood dream.  During the other 90% of the time it was unglamorous grunt work.

We spent our time digging systems of trenches.  We laid down constantina wire.  We froze in the trenches for nights on end.  Then we filled the trenches up, collected the wire, and left.  We marched through game trails with the most horrendous loads on our backs.   I now know what it’s like to hump straight up a mountain with over 100 lbs on my back.  Literally grabbing tree trunks and willing myself upward.  We marched so long, and so exhaustively that we’d enter this zombie state.  Not really awake, yet not really asleep.  Just a numb awareness of the back of the feet of the guy in front of you.

I was a private, which means I had no earthly idea of what we were doing, when we would be doing it, and why.  It all seemed so random to me.  An order is given and you carry it out.  It’s the nature of being a paratrooper.

I see myself standing waist deep in some swamp somewhere in Louisiana.  Or freezing to death in subzero temperatures in some old Korean War bunker at the top of a mountain.  Our platoon physically changed the side of a beautiful hill into a network of defensive fortifications in 24 hours.  With bare hands and shovels.

To an 18 year old man, it all seemed so ridiculous.  We laughed at just how crazy things would get.  We cried too.  Sometimes our laughter turned to crying and vice versa.

Life just seemed to be so out of our control.

But I learned one important thing.  I was capable of suffering a great deal.  Then more and more until the torture stretches out into eternity.   Just when I thought I was ready to quit, some reserve would kick in and I could take myself just a little further.  I don’t know how I did it.  I was young and didn’t come in with this great capability.  It just happened and some hidden knowledge presented itself.

In any hardship in life, you can break down your predicament into smaller chunks.  Your goal is just to walk to that tree in the distance or make it through THIS chemo treatment or climb the next 10 feet.  It makes almost anything achievable.

I’ve looked back over some of the insanity in my life, and only appreciated the accomplishment when it was complete.  I put together a masterpiece of suck, piece by piece.

So I looked at my life alot differently after the military.  For all the mountain adventures I have been on there was always something I did in the Army that was far more difficult.  It made climbing a mountain for 24 hours straight achievable.  Our bodies remember old pain.  Old traumas.

What you don’t always realize about suffering is that there are huge rewards afterward.  It creates great friendships and each horror establishes a mythology of it’s own.

If I were to tell you of my own ritual conversion into manhood I would tell you the story of the ‘death march’ I had in the mountains of South Korea.  There was 20 of us who stretched the limits of endurance that day.  We were all teenagers when we started that journey.  We were something different having survived it.

All of these moments are just little chunks we put together to get through our lives.  Living is incredibly difficult but so rewarding when we count all the slogs we endured to get here.

If we do it often enough, we look forward to the next chunk.  We plan for it.  We accept it’s consequences.  The consequences of living.