A child’s suffering

Opinion – Sunday, April 11, 2004

A child’s suffering can touch us all
It can help us choose how we handle life
By Dr. Jerry A. Pattengale


We were married a week when we started over. Cindy had been a widow with
three small boys. And when someone stole our new truck and U-haul, they lost
it all.

One hour in El Paso stripped the luster from newlywed status.

While my new family was in the pool having a blast, I went to the lot and
found shattered glass. A friend had informed us to chain the U-haul to our
GMC Jimmy to secure the trailer. Instead, thieves took them both.

The saddest loss wasn’t her late husband’s 40-pound old coin collection,
Christmas or wedding gifts, but the personal memorabilia of David. We
discovered later that his only remaining handwriting was on a Yatzee score

Although Embassy Suites chauffeured us around the city while we waited on a
flight, it still charged us for the room. The boys were fascinated with the
limo ride, but also understood our gloom.

A rare Texas snowstorm prompted AAA to send us via the southern route from
Michigan to Los Angeles, where my job awaited. The trip had been great. We
went trout fishing in Buck Snort, Tenn., shopped, raced go-carts and
basically ate our way across America.

The night before the El Paso heist was another theft. Jason, my new oldest
son, stole my heart.

Little Jason, then barely 8, jumped on top the truck and yelled, “Here Dad,
this is a heavy one.”

My world stood still. My heart grew beyond my chest. A confluence of tears
and snow made a mess of my face.

For the first time in my life, someone called me “Dad.”

This precious adorable boy with perfect features and a magnetic personality
called me “Dad,” and it came naturally. “Dad” stunned me more than a Tolkein

“Dad.” A eureka moment. I tried hiding my face, wiping it on my flannel

My vision was blurry, yet my heart could see.

Although Jason is now a college sophomore, I can still see his little face
through the driving snow, his silhouette navigating the bulky suitcase.

Yes, the next night we lost our earthly possessions. But that night, I felt
a loss indescribable until it happened — the greatest and best of losses,
my heart.

Years later, I came across the following story and it vividly reminded me of
joy amidst loss, and of our love for children. It happened in 1989 in
Armenia, where catastrophic earthquakes killed thousands in large poorly
constructed buildings. John-Thor Dahlburg wrote the story for The Associated

YEREVAN, U.S.S.R. — Mother and daughter were entombed in eternal night and
their only food, a jar of jam, was gone. Tons of smashed concrete around
them had become their prison. “Mommy, I’m so thirsty, I want to drink,”
cried 4-year-old Gayaney Petrosyan.

Her mother, Susanna Petrosyan, was trapped flat on her back. A prefabricated
concrete panel 18 inches above her head and a crumpled water pipe above her
shoulders kept her from standing. She wore only a slip, and it was horribly

Beside here in the darkness lay the lifeless body of her sister-in-law,
Karine. She had been crushed by falling walls, and died pinned beneath
rubble one day after the Dec. 7 earthquake leveled much of Leninanakan and
other towns in northwestern Armenia.

“Mommy, I need to drink,” sobbed Gayaney. “Please give me something.”

“I thought my child was going to die of thirst, recalled Petrosyan, 26. “I
had no water, no fruit juice, no liquids. It was then I remembered that I
had my own blood.”

Although she was trapped in darkness, she could slide on her back from side
to side. Her groping fingers, numb from the cold, found a shattered glass.
She sliced open her left index finger with a shard and gave it to her
daughter to suckle.

The drops of blood weren’t enough. “Please, Mommy, some more. Cut another
finger.” Petrosyan remembers her daughter saying. The woman made more cuts
in her flesh, feeling nothing because of the bitter cold. She put her hand
to her child’s mouth, squeezing her fingers to make more blood come.

“I knew I was going to die,” Petrosyan said. “But I wanted my daughter to

And she did. They both did.

In the face of great losses, there is joy. My heart hurts for the thousands
in my city that have lost their jobs and maybe their possessions. Factories
are crumbling around them.

During this crisis, there are reminders of life’s greater treasures, those
who call us “Dad” and “Mom.” That love, like Petrosyan’s, fuels a drive so
strong that we’ll provide. We’ll survive.

During this Easter season, and in the light of Petrosyan’s story, we’re
again reminded of a love so special that it created weighty tears that made
it difficult to see. The Christian texts tell us that a son on a cross,
punished unjustly for his kindness, looked up in excruciating despair and
cried, “Father.”

Regardless of one’s belief in the supernatural, the anguish of a suffering
child touches hearts. The suffering of innocence touches our souls.

The passion of Christ is historical — recorded in four first-century New
Testament texts, mentioned in Roman and other accounts and bathed in
archeological remains.

The El Paso theft, the Armenia earthquake, and massive layoffs are also
historical, all with their own records. And, they, too, speak to the human

Our rejection of these truths will not change them, but our acceptance can
change us.

Dr. Jerry A. Pattengale is a professor of history and assistant vice
president for academic support at Indiana Wesleyan University. He also
speaks regularly at national conferences and on college campuses. He has
written the recently published textbook Visible Solutions for Invisible

Originally published Sunday, April 11, 2004