“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
Nelson Mandela
PicturePhotography by Joseph Osei-Bonsu
    This is not your typical 'grass to grace', 'roaches to riches' or 'prison to palace' reflection. This piece seeks to dispel the myths we have about suffering. Most of the time, when bad things happen to us, or when we fall into one misfortune or the other, our first assumption is that we're being punished for something we did or didn't do. We try to immediately resolve the situation the best way we know or can. Other times, we may blame an external source such as others, circumstances or even God for a bad spell or event. Whether bitter or better, it doesn't matter how your experience with suffering felt like. What matters are these two important things that you must recognize about suffering:
a. Suffering cannot be avoided.
b. Suffering must be chosen.

    Life beckons us to choose our own sufferings because we can't avoid it. What do I mean by this?  First of all, I must mention that there are two types of suffering:
1. Self-induced suffering
2. Uncontrolled suffering

Self-induced suffering, as it eponymously suggests, is suffering that occurs, directly or indirectly, as a result of an intentional decision or choice made by the sufferer. The suffering could be either foolish, like suffering a divorce because you were unfaithful to your spouse. Or, it could be worthwhile, like the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela which eventually ended the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Uncontrolled suffering is simply what the sufferer endures directly or indirectly as a result of a decision or choice, made by an external party. The suffering could be purely accidental, such as being knocked over by a carelessly, speeding car while crossing the street. Or it could be intentional, such as being falsely accused of a crime you didn't commit.

Because suffering can be uncontrolled, none of us are immune to it - we cannot avoid suffering. Because suffering comes with every decision we are to make, we must ultimately choose our own suffering. Though it is viewed as a good decision, choosing a college education also comes with the suffering of years of self-discipline, sacrifices, putting up with people professors, parents; future debts, uncertainty of graduating, unemployment etc. The suffering in marriage is probably the worst, yet, all the brides and grooms feel it's worth it before they say, "I do". The family that moved from New Orleans to New York City after Hurricane Katrina, realized that they couldn't avoid the suffering from Hurricane Sandy. The fatherless daughter knows that she cannot avoid the suffering of the continuous absence of her single-parent, because her mother works two jobs. Suffering, pain, misfortune, calamity, crisis, problems, issues, however you choose to describe it, is a necessary step that all men must take in the journey of life. Since this is so, it is up to you to choose whether this necessary step will be a step forward or a step backward.

    The purpose of suffering is to serve as the conduit to the next step in life.

    Imagine suffering as a prison with two doors: the entrance and the exit. The entrance is always open, but the exit is opened per time, per time, at random intervals. Each time the exit opens, it either opens into a better prison(relief) or to the outside world(freedom). You will either be shoved through the opened entrance of the 'Prison of Suffering'(uncontrolled suffering) or you'll have to enter the prison yourself (self-induced suffering). Notwithstanding the method by which one gets locked up in the 'Prison of Suffering', what matters is that one must be locked up in it at least once in one's lifetime. And when you have entered the prison, the entrance door is slammed shut, forever. The only way out is through the exit (which opens without warning to either relief or to freedom). The prisoner must stay alert at all times in order to gain access to the exit when it opens. Not just that, depending on where the opened exit leads to, the prisoner must then choose whether he or she will exit the prison into 'relief' or to wait for the 'exit of freedom'. The better prison(relief), though it has more manageable conditions, is still a prison anyhow. One will eventually have to leave the better prison if they want freedom, or perish there.It doesn't matter why you're in the prison of your suffering, the solution is not found in better prisons - anything that provides temporal relief - or, in languishing in your cell - wallowing in self-pity and blame. The exit of Freedom (taking full responsibility for your life again) is the only true way out of the Prison of Suffering. Owing to this stark reality, it is important for us to embrace and utilize this imagery of suffering for our benefit. Since the Prison of Suffering is a necessary conduit for life, it is important for its prisoners to view it as a promotion - a step forward - otherwise, it becomes the worst experience in the prisoner's life. Doing time in the Prison of Suffering, is a time of waiting. This indeterminable period of waiting could become the next step forward or the next step backward, if managed properly or improperly, respectively. I may not know have all the reasons as to why the wait may be protracted or curtailed, but one thing I know is that; the wait depends on how ready you, the prisoner are for freedom, and whether the outside world is ready to receive you back. Hence:

Managing suffering requires that the sufferer be focused, self-disciplined, and vigilant as he or she prepares himself for the opportunity of true freedom.



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