PART I: The Events
The Life of The Cross, © 2008 (2nd ed. 2020), by Cathy Scott
Despite the glistening snow surrounding us, Liz and I soon found ourselves removing our outer layers of coats and sweaters as we neared the top of the mountain. Even though we had not walked far from the parking area, we were breathing heavily due to the altitude and the steepness of the climb.
Liz and I had become friends in this land away from home. Our husbands had received temporary work assignments in southern Spain; leading Liz and I to pack up our families and move across the ocean, with expectations of new and exciting adventures. We had both taken leaves from our respective careers: Liz from nursing, and I from teaching; for this opportunity to explore new lands and to make new friends. We had not been disappointed by our decision, and we delighted in the blessings that had come our way.
On this particular day, we had driven our teenage children up the coast to a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near the town of Granada. After getting our teens settled on the slopes for an afternoon of fun, we headed up a neighboring mountain for a view from the monument near the mountain’s summit. The cloudless sky shone bright blue against the white of the snow, and everything looked clean and pure. As we neared the monument, we stopped to catch our breath and to look out at the world around us.
The view was one of contrasts. Stretching out below the snow-covered mountain were the typical rolling hills of southern Spain, covered in a patchwork of the browns of arid, rocky soil and the greens of olive groves and pomegranate trees. The city walls encircling Granada stood as a testimony to their centuries of history and constancy, while the modern automobiles going in and out of the gates reflected the changing lives that had come and gone within those walls. Off to the south, a thin line of the dark blue Mediterranean Sea could be seen between the vastness of both the land and the sky. We looked at the world below us, knowing that three of the many small figures gliding back and forth across the slope meant the world to us.
The beauty of the moment could not have been more poignant. Yet the words that seemed to echo across the mountain as Liz spoke them were these: “How can God allow so much pain and suffering to exist in a world that is so beautiful?” The question hung in the air and swallowed all of our other thoughts. Silence reigned for several moments.
Liz and I were each aware that we had both dealt with the opposing extremes of human emotions within our respective careers. The rewards that our careers offered could not have been more meaningful to either one of us. But, at the same time, the needs of those in our care were more than time and physical limitations would ever allow us to meet. Joys of victory were celebrated and then quickly set aside to tackle the next set of needs. Deep regrets were acknowledged for those situations that had not ended victoriously, while the deeper sadness was in our general awareness that unaddressed needs surrounded us daily, some of which we would never even know existed.
In a world of unending needs, did our work make a difference? Did we make a difference? Could we somehow do more? The moment of contemplation was memorable. It allowed for both outward awareness and inward retrospection. The contrasts took up permanent residence within me.
Then Liz quietly asked, “Will you return to teaching when you go home?”
There was a moment of thought and then my barely audible answer. “I don’t know. Will you return to nursing?”
A moment later came her whispered response. “I don’t know either.”
We were not any different from the people we serve. Whether we were working in our homeland or traveling with our families half a world away, we were looking for answers that eluded us to questions that overwhelmed us.
But Liz’s first question that day was the one that continued to frame all of our other thoughts and questions. The question was indeed bigger than either of us, but so too was the answer.