I remember when I was a social worker, a woman in my cube-area complained to me that she was annoyed to have to see a priest to talk about marriage. She wanted to know what that priest could ever know about marriage for crying out loud.
I reminded her that we were childless, yet our job was getting parents to raise their children better. I guess you don't have to experience everything to know the difference between what works and what doesn't.
I worked at a residential program long ago, with adolescent boys. One time an adult said to a kid "I know you feel this way..." and the boy, enraged, said "YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW I FEEL!!!" But the man who was confronting him said "listen- pain is pain! You have pain, I have pain, we both have pain. I know how it feels to be in pain. I can help you through it." I've thought a lot about that over the years- is it true that pain is pain, and joy is joy, and fear is fear, and our experiences of those feelings aren't so unique as we may think they are?
I have had a fairly easy life so far... more or less unscathed by serious tragedy, I still think I am a pretty empathic person. Do I have to have lost a loved one to know how that must feel to a person? I think that maybe we all react to pain in different ways- in whatever ways work for us- but maybe fundamentally we are connected by our similar feelings on a basic level.
I may have mentioned this before, but one Saturday we were listening to This American Life, and they played a piece of Julia Sweeney's one woman show, "Letting Go of God". One of the things that reverberated in my head from that show was Julia saying "Jesus had a pretty bad day for your sins." Her point was that since Jesus' suffering had been quick, lasting only one day, and hadn't, in her opinion, been as long or awful as her dying brother's suffering, that somehow it didn't really count. It wasn't good enough.
I've thought often about what I might say to Julia Sweeney if I ever ran into her. People write to her all the time trying to convince her back from atheism. I think I'd say that Jesus did a good thing by experiencing suffering in a most human way- physical pain and rejection and betrayal from those he trusted most- and that to me, his suffering didn't have to match mine, or whoever's, because pain is pain, and Jesus felt pain like I do. I appreciate him experiencing pain that he didn't have to experience, so that he'd know how I feel when I suffer.
That idea, that pain is pain, it should be something that unites us- and I think Jesus saw it that way. HOW we suffer isn't as important, overall, as how we deal with it- and because we all know pain, we can help each other through it.