(featured image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/anotherpintplease/3418925259)

“Why Do You Choose to Suffer?”

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been asked that question quite as directly as that.  But, I have been asked it nonetheless.  I’m not sure “suffer” is even the correct word.

I wouldn’t say that I choose it necessarily.  Or at least not consciously.  I don’t even think that what I choose is really suffering.  Though, I do think that we learn a great deal about ourselves through our suffering.  Maybe from that perspective I lean towards it . . . ??

I suppose my tendency toward suffering goes back to my childhood.  I used to have debilitating earaches and sinus infections that lasted for weeks if not months at a time.  If you grow up in something, then possibly it just becomes natural to you?

Yeah, that answer doesn’t satisfy me either.

In high school, there was to be a dinner at a steakhouse for an organization of which I was a member.  The organization is of no consequence to the story.  Troy was also a member of said organization.  The dinner was scheduled for a Saturday night, as I recall, in a larger town about 30 minutes away.  This was of course when I ignorantly consumed poor, helpless bovine.  But, back then, who could resist a succulent, medium rare, salivatingly seasoned, perfectly grilled rib eye and baked potato with all the fixins?

Shheewwwttt!!  NOT ME!! . . . or . . .

An RSVP was required to attend this dinner.

I’m kinda fuzzy on how it all came about, but Troy’s church was, not coincidently, hosting a boy’s survival trip weekend.  “What’s that?” you ask.  Well, a whole bunch of teenage boys are divided into groups and each group gets a single match, a knife, one fish hook, and 10 feet of fishing line to go in the woods and . . . survive for 2 days.  Yep, extreme backwoods camping Survivorman or Lord of the Flies style.  Take your pick.

Troy and I declined our invites to the wonderfully delicious steak dinner.

The events, as described below may or may not be wholly accurate, but they are the truth as best I can remember.

The weekend rolls around and instead of dressing up in suits to go eat luxurious meat, on a Saturday morning Troy and I load up in a van with a bunch of other musty teenage boys and drive into the woods.  Upon arrival we are divided into groups of 4 and given our “supplies”.  From there, we were on our own.  As our supplies were limited for the group, I remember us dividing duties.

Two of us were responsible for building a lean-to shelter, one was responsible for the fire and our one precious match, and the fourth one was to go catch some fish.

The lean-to and the fire were no problem.  Catching fish, now THAT was a problem.  Early evening rolled around and we hadn’t caught anything.   Some groups caught plenty of fish.  Others, ours included, could not catch a flipping thing.  Those with fish didn’t share.  I can remember sitting there, stomach growling and smelling the cooked fish and watching others eat.  We kept trying for fish, but to no avail.

Now, we were getting pretty hungry.  No where near starvation, but the stomach has a mighty powerful control over you when it is just recently empty.  Especially, when it smells food nearby.  Let it stay empty for a while and the power subsides.

This was WELL before mobile phones and the Internet.  We couldn’t just look up edible plants and berries and we were all smart enough to know that you don’t just go eatin’ whatever’s around.

Someone mentioned to someone that polk salad was something that could be eaten.  It was made from the leaves of the pokeweed plant.  Take a good bunch of leaves, boil them well once, rinse, and then boil them another time and rinse.  The leaves were poisonous, we were told, but boiling them twice gets rid of the toxin and renders them edible.

Now available for purchase at your local general store. And with a fancy new name!

I’m not sure how we came about acquiring a pot in which to do all this boiling.  I think we actually found one in the woods.  But, we gathered up a bunch of the leaves and boiled them and then boiled them once more.  It cooks down like spinach.  What looks to be 10 pounds soon withers away to a couple of forkfuls.  Of course, we didn’t have any forks.  I’m simply using that as a unit of measure to explain it.

Our stomachs weren’t full, but they were somewhat filled.

We survived the night and that could be considered something as we consumed a plant that is normally poisonous to humans.

As dawn broke our stomachs were growling again.  Troy headed off to see if he would have any luck with the fish hook.

At some point in the window of time that Troy was gone from camp, the youth ministers surprised everyone with cans of Beanee Weenee.


Good gosh darn that was some good stuff!

Well, everyone that is EXCEPT Troy.  We were all finishing off our better than you possibly imagine or believe stone cold franks and beans when Troy came sauntering up and wanted to know what the heck was going on.

“They’re giving them away at the van,” we told him.

He headed over and a few minutes later came back . . .

They had run out.  Troy was not a happy camper.  In hind sight, the three of us in our group probably should have waited until Troy returned.  But, when you’re famished, well, you’re famished.

We wondered how they didn’t have enough if they brought ONE can for each guy.  Someone cheated we all concluded.

We all survived, in the end, and managed to prevent a Lord of the Flies remake.

The whole point of this story is that I have a long history of choosing “hardship” over “luxury”.  Let’s face it:  luxury makes you soft in the middle and the really good stories never begin with, “Hey, remember that time we flew first class, had Krug Clos du Mesnil champagne, ate Wagyu steaks, and drank gold leaf cappuccino?”  Okay . . . maybe some do.

I opted for a survival trip with polk salad and beanee weanee over a steak dinner.

I traded security for insecurity.

I chose adventure over certainty.

I don’t see it as choosing “suffering”.  But, I can see how someone would.

And maybe there’s the lesson.

Published On: 2018 February 28

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