When I was a little girl, my mother would sigh over her mop and say that: “Life is a vale of tears”. I’m not sure if that was her natural optimism or the fact that she forgot I was standing two feet away from her, but it took me many, many years to realize that was “vale” and not “veil” (o, homonyms, why are you so obtuse?) and in those intervening years I imagined the most beautiful veils, magical, teensy tiny droplets of transparent pearls so small as to be only a glimpse, weightless and strewn on a spider web of threads visible only at sunset when the roseate pallet picks them out for a second. I somehow made the whole suffering thing disappear like the filament of a daffodil, leaving only a shiny dust mote of gold.
By the time I realized my mistake and heard that same verse which is, in my opinion, a poor translation of the phrase “the valley of the shadow of death” (much better) in the 23rd Psalm (Old Testament), used in a more positive context, I had begun to encounter suffering in more meaningful ways. I understood that that is one way to look at this experience, life.
Sadly, my mother was not a Buddhist. I don’t think she saw any way out of that valley and the thought that her internal mantra was ‘a vale of tears’, no matter how beautiful…well, it makes me want to cry.