Harold Kushner experienced a parent’s worst nightmare, to see his son Aaron suffer and experience a premature death.
Being a rabbi, Kushner turned to his faith to try to understand what he was experiencing but had difficulty finding the answer. As part of his grieving process, he chronicled his journey in a book that has now become a classic, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, published several years after the death of his son.
The conclusions that Kushner comes to are not necessarily what one would expect from a religious leader. He notes that God never promised a life without pain, God only promised that we would not walk alone.
The key, says Kushner, is to find meaning in our suffering. This, interestingly, is the same advice that Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl gave to his fellow inmates in a Nazi concentration camp. By finding meaning, we can find the strength and perseverance to overcome suffering.
There is also tremendous beauty in human empathy and compassion. When we see others suffer, we seek to comfort them, to love them, and to assure them that their suffering does indeed have meaning. We need only look at the continual, inspirational progress in medical science, in human rights and in many other areas for proof of this.
The fact that Aaron Kushner’s life was cut short was tragic, but he touched the world in beautiful, meaningful and amazing ways. The world certainly did become a better place because of his presence among us. He taught his father, and he teaches us, that love and compassion not only make us human, they are powerful forces of positive change.