There is a daily NPR show that I try to catch called "Talk of the Nation" hosted by Neil Conan. Today I happened upon a segment where the topic was Genome study and Gene Therapy Research and how it affects our quality of life and modern medicine.
Becoming more popular is prenatal testing to determine whether an unborn child will arrive months later in the arms of his/her parents, healthy and normal….or with a disability such as Downs Syndrome.
One caller shared the story of the time he and his wife had testing done on their unborn baby, revealing a severe disability that would bring about an enormous burden on their family emotionally, physically, and financially.
They chose to terminate the pregnancy. The caller later said that they now have a healthy, happy little girl that was born a short while later.
Children and adults can also have testing done to discover (due to a particular illness common in their family history) whether they will fall victim to a disease or disability similar to their ancestors.
Another caller told of a man who was given a strong, almost definite, likelihood of developing Huntington's Disease. This truth was more than he could handle, so he took his own life. He didn't have an actual diagnosis, mind you.
So is it right for us to know, everything that will go wrong in our future? Is it better to expect or to experience our pain?
I remember when I was little. Being a boy who loved playing outside and in the woods, I would be sporting at least 3-4 band-aids weekly. And the thing that scared me the most wasn't the actual cut or even the pain removing the band-aid…it was the mere thought of ripping the band-aid from my skin and the possible pain associated with it. While deep in my 10 year old brain's crisis of how to go about removing the dreaded thing, my mom would come along and RIP! the band aid was gone. And before I could even open my mouth to scream, the pain had vanished. I was too busy expecting the pain to actually experience it. And when it came time to experience the pain, it really wasn't what I had built it up to be.
Now, I know the pain I describe pales in comparison to the pain of losing someone you love to a tragedy or learning from test results that you have a life-threatening illness. But in the end, pain is pain. We've all been dealt our fair share. We experience it, find ways to heal and cope, and do our best to move on and learn from it.
What good does it do me to know that my gene structure says I might develop Alzheimer's late in life? Could I start now by setting up insurance policies and prepare myself to slowly deteriorate and succumb to the disease? Possibly… but how does that make my life any better when, come 50 years from now, the tests turn out to be false, and I'm void of any life-threatening illness?
What if someone told you that on October 17, 2009, you would be inheriting a sum of money that would make you ridiculously wealthy? You would be excited, right? You would prepare yourself and make plans as to what you would purchase with the money. Your life starts to revolve around October 17, 2009. You start to live for that day. What if you died October 16th? All that excitement, all the planning…would be wasted.
It's the same way with pain.
When we expect pain, we live it and it lives within us, bringing us down and keeping us from happiness. But when we experience pain, we learn from it and move on. Suffering is a tool every human needs to use in order for us to grow. The growth in my own life is due, not to my successes, but largely in part to many painful situations, illness, and unanswered prayers.
There is a reason for the trials we go through. There is a reason for suffering. There is a reason for pain.
There was a reason the first caller and his wife were given a baby with a disability. There was a reason the friend of the second caller was a prime candidate for Huntington's disease. It was to make them each stronger. It was to make them realize the frailty of human life and that we must be grateful for the small amount of time we do have here.
We must accept the tragedies that befall us and learn from them.
But, we as a forward-thinking, developing human race would rather find ways around this experience. We would rather rid our lives of a burdensome baby that could grow to be a blessing to those around her, or we would rather discover we might become sick before it's our time to know, giving us no hope for survival.
Why do you think our prime time TV is saturated with pharmaceutical ads touting a new drug to pull us out of sadness or depression? We don't want to experience it. We want a pill to take the pain away and leave the underlying reason for the sadness, unresolved. But, if we put a blanket over a fire, it appears gone, but it will soon burn through and show itself again.
Human suffering is not a medical condition we can treat. Human suffering is a necessary part of our daily lives. We have to confront it and attempt to heal. For when we avoid it… we miss the opportunity of the beautiful sunrise at the end of a long night.