In response, Father Dan launched into a story. He had recently been in his car on a beautiful sunny day, and there was an animal, a skunk, who’d been hit by a car and ended up in his driveway. Somehow I remember his calling it a mother skunk, but I don’t know how he knew this.
The injured skunk was dragging herself along the concrete. She was injured badly, bleeding and dying. Father Dan pulled up beside her and opened his car door. He sat looking down at her, as she panted and bled. He spoke to her quietly. “Are you going to stay there all day?” he asked. Eventually, she pulled herself into the shade, almost under the car. He didn’t mention praying. He just spoke gently to the skunk, watching over her until she died.
At the time, I was left wondering as I had so often, why is he telling me this story? I thought he wasn’t answering my question. I understood that he couldn’t, because he couldn’t answer that biggest question of all: Why is there suffering?
He couldn’t explain why, so instead, he told me what he could. He told me with a parable, like Jesus, what you do with the suffering.
“I have to accept what is,” Father Dan would always say. That’s the starting point, even in situations where something helpful can be done. There was no saving that skunk. There was no mitigating its suffering, even, although I suppose some people might have run over it to put it out of its misery.
Father Dan wasn’t going to run over the skunk and kill it, so he did what he could. He witnessed. He comforted, just in case the skunk understood. He felt compassion. He was telling me what to do: be present for the skunk, be present for the moment, for what was happening, right in front of you. You choose the light, but first you have to recognize the darkness.