In the early summer of 1967 (when I was 10 years old), while holding onto the end of an old rubber garden hose, I climbed up the Weeping Willow Tree in the back yard of my parents’ home. When I got about 20 feet up, I climbed out onto a thick branch and tied the end of the hose to the branch. Since my intention was to use the hose to swing around like Tarzan, I made sure it was securely fastened to the tree limb.
Of all of the summers I went through as a boy, the summer of 1967 was the most memorable. When I turned 10 years old (in May of that year), my dad bought me something I had begged him to get me for 3 years – a BB Gun. That summer I built a tree house with a friend of mine. My favorite television shows were Tarzan, Zorro, and The Lone Ranger – great shows for a young idealistic boy who wanted to grow up and save the world.
The hose lasted until September 3, 1967. I remember the date because on that day the hose snapped while I was swinging on it. It happened on a Sunday morning. I got dressed for Church early that day and I was outside swinging around like I was Tarzan. When the hose broke, my body was flying sideways through the air. When I fell to the ground, I heard the sound of a stick breaking in half. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a stick that broke. It was my left femur (thigh) bone.
I immediately called out to my younger brother Carl who was sitting on one of the branches in the tree: “Go get dad, I think I broke my leg!”
Moments later my mom and dad came rushing out of the house to see what happened. Within minutes, my brothers, sisters and several of the neighborhood kids were all standing in a circle around me watching what was going on like it was a sporting event.
My dad told my oldest brother, Jerry, to run and get a 5 foot long countertop that he had brought home earlier in the summer from one of his job sites. When Jerry returned with the countertop, dad put it on the ground next to me and he and Jerry gently slid my body onto the countertop. Then they carried me over to the station wagon and after folding down the second and third seats, slid the countertop (and me) into the station wagon.
Mom was frantic. She climbed inside the back of the car with me. While dad was driving to the hospital, she knelt over me and prayed, pleading with God to help me. At one point, my dad said in a firm voice, “Kathryn, you need to settle down. I don’t want him to get worked up and go into shock.” At that point, my mom lowered her voice, but continued to pray loud enough for me to hear her.
When we got to the emergency room, two men at the hospital slid the countertop (and me) onto a gurney and wheeled me into the hospital. Once inside, a nurse cut off my pants. I looked down at my left thigh. It was bent and swollen. The X-Ray showed a complete break, with the broken ends of the bone pushing up against the side of my thigh. I heard the doctor tell my parents that I was lucky that the bones didn’t puncture through the flesh.
That evening, my leg was placed in traction. The next day I was put under and the doctor set the bone, placed a pin through my left knee to hold the bone in place, and formed a “body cast” around my entire left leg and foot, my right leg (down past my knee), and around my pelvis, waist and abdomen (up to my chest). I don’t remember how long I had to “wear” the cast. I think it was six or eight weeks. After the cast was cut off, I had to go through extensive therapy to build up the flexibility and strength in my left leg so I could walk again.
I thought about my broken leg and my trip to the hospital last Thursday morning when I heard a report on the radio that an 8 year old boy had been killed. The boy, Albert A. Billups-Wilson, was shot in the head while he was sleeping in the upstairs bedroom of his mother’s home in Peoria. The bullet that penetrated his skull was the result of a drive-by shooting. Some local gangsters apparently sprayed the house with bullets in retaliation for some unknown action of someone who was living in the house.
I heard about the shooting on Thursday morning while I was listening to the radio and getting ready for work. After hearing the news, I thought about my mom’s reaction to my injury. Then all I could think about was the panic that must have taken place inside of the boy’s home immediately after he was killed. I had a vision flash through my mind of a frantic mother screaming out to God to save her son. I could see her pleading with God to take her instead of her son.
It’s hard to imagine the kind of suffering a mother in her situation would go through. We know that suffering is generally defined as the rational experience of pain. Although animals can experience pain, they are not capable of suffering because they do not possess minds that have the ability to reflect on the pain they experience. As humans, we can (and do) suffer from physical pain, emotional pain, and spiritual pain.
On that day in 1967 when my mom was praying over me in the back of our station wagon, she was suffering more than I was. The mother of the 8 year old boy is experiencing an immense amount of suffering, but her son who was killed while he was asleep did not suffer at all.
The day after I broke my leg I told my mom, “I must have done something to make God mad at me.” When she asked why I felt that way, I told her, “I can’t understand why He didn’t stop me from breaking my leg. The only thing I can figure out is that He must be upset with me.” Of course, my mom reassured me that God was not upset with me. She pointed out that God the Father wasn’t upset with Jesus or Mary, yet they were allowed to suffer. She told me that I had to use the situation I was in as an opportunity to identify with our Lord and His Mother. She also told me to offer up my pain and suffering to God as a prayer.
Every one of us has a choice. We can become angry, bitter and resentful when we’re faced with suffering, or we can choose to humbly accept our suffering and view it as an opportunity to: (1) identify with Jesus and Mary; and (2) offer up as a powerful prayer to our Father in Heaven.
As devout Catholics, we should do everything in our power to embrace the suffering God allows us to go through. It was because of the immense suffering of our Lord that the gates of Heaven were opened for all of us. When we turn away from suffering, we turn away from Jesus Christ. In order to embrace Him, we must first be willing to embrace suffering.
Here’s one more thing to think about: It could have been your son (or brother or grandson) that was killed last week. You may want to stop right now and say a prayer for the boy and his family.