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Living with a Bullet Wound} ?> Occasionally, I play a little game in the back of my mind where I imagine I go back in time and change something. Sometimes I go back and slap past me in the face right before I was going to do something stupid. Sometimes I go back and warn myself about a danger that is ahead. Every now and then I go back and change someone else’s actions—sometimes drastically—so I don’t have to suffer today for what they did back then. I play this game when I’m frustrated that I don’t have enough money to do what I want or when I’m feeling annoyed that I have to deal with an obnoxious family dynamic. But most of the time I play this game because I’m feeling depressed and want that feeling of hopelessness to go away. That’s when I imagine I could go back and somehow change an abusive childhood, a system of emotional damage or that one event that still haunts me… things that would take away the pain that I live with every day.
So when Barry Allen sat on the porch experiencing the deep mourning that comes from watching his parents die right before him, giving up the perfect life with Iris to save Joe and knowing that not one but two mentors he trusted and loved turned out to be vicious and destructive forces he’d have to battle with, I felt his pain. And when he tells Iris that he can’t figure out how to engage in a relationship with her even though this is something he’s been dreaming about for years, his pain is heart breaking.
Iris leaves him, saying she’ll be there waiting for him when he’s ready, and Barry misses something really important in that statement. Barry is suffering alone, even though there is a whole room of people wanting to share his pain just on the other side of the door. Sometimes sorrow blinds us to the world around us and makes it impossible to see that we don’t have to struggle alone; all we see is this past experience that hurts. Like me, he gets caught up in the past, but unlike me, Barry actually has the ability to go back in time and change things that have happened. And so he does.
Barry runs to save his mother, thinking it is going to solve all his pain, but he doesn’t understand that the person he is and the people he loves have been forged in that suffering. The dark moments of the past are part of what has made him. If I were to go back and change my past, there would be no guarantee that the person sitting here would be a person I could be proud of. The person I am today understands suffering because I have suffered. I strive to be a better parent because I’ve lived with a bad one. I fight for rights for abuse victims and speak thoughtfully and compassionately because I can identify. If I run back and change any one of those things, I lose being able to say that. By removing suffering, I take away the things that make me who I am. Without that suffering I run the risk of becoming meaningless.
Barry’s biggest problem is that he continues to live in the past and doesn’t look to the future. Past pain haunts the present, but that doesn’t mean being haunted by that pain is the only option. The lie of hopelessness is that the past has damaged you and you are now forever broken. It is in that moment that Barry, just like us, becomes willing to do anything to make the pain go away. At this point, endurance seems to fail and enduring becomes a hopeless endeavor. In those moments of crushing defeat, two things have saved me from making a decision I can’t take back: my faith and looking to the future.
My faith speaks into a hopeful future that promises value for endurance and peace to come but the presence of one who has suffered and suffers with me. Part of enduring in the interim is knowing that I am not the only person who has suffered, so my suffering might be able to help someone else in the future. I don’t have to live in my past suffering, even though it hurts. Even as I live in my present suffering, I don’t have to be solely concentrate on it; I can live in the future and focus on how these scars can be redeemed.
My suffering can be reduced when I open it to my loved ones and allow them to bear some of my burden, as I am willing to do with them. My suffering can be redeemed when I use it to help someone else through their pain. As I mourn, I try to look around me at those who are mourning as well and comfort them. When I see people who aren’t sure they can endure, I open my pain and suffering to them so they know they are not alone and there is hope to make it to the end. It is in those moments— painful and honest—that I move from not being sure if I’ll ever be okay to realizing my suffering can have value. It gains that value not by dodging a bullet but by showing someone else how to live with a bullet wound so they can hurt a little less than I did.
We don’t know what is going to happen to Barry now that he’s chosen to take his pain in his own hands and change the past. But as the image of himself going into the future faded away I gasped out a “No, Barry!” as I realized, if he didn’t, that the Flash I’ve come to know and love was dying and all the love, all the good, all the ways he has touched people, yes through his suffering, is never going to be… and the world is going to be a darker place for it.
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