As I navigate the intermittent brutalities of mortal existence, I occasionally have cause to remember two experiences that tend to orient my outlook toward Christ. Neither is happy in the sense that saccharine is sweet (cloying then nauseous in rapid succession), but both are holy to me.
The first requires that I recall my missionary service of a couple decades back. A local churchmember asked my companion and me whether we would be willing to donate blood for her non-member father in anticipation of a significant surgery. She explained to us that she couldn’t imagine cleaner blood than that of missionaries, and I reflected with great pride that I was indeed not at risk for the blood-borne pathogens that impart minor peril to the recipient. Though at some remove I felt like a jugular vein on display in some sort of vampire wine cellar (“yes, I’d like that Aryan-looking flask, the one in the white shirt and tie”), at the time I felt only pride that my conscientious avoidance of high-risk exposures meant that I could be relied on to give succor to the sick with my very life blood. In proud recognition of that fact, I regularly donated my blood during college, each time proud to check the boxes that indicated my blood was reliable. Perhaps a decade later I was a young physician when a vaguely similar opportunity arose (I am a “universal donor” on the basis of the relative paucity of cell-surface antigens on my red blood cells), I began to swell with pride until I realized with a catch of the diaphragm that my medical service had made me high risk as a blood donor.
I am often exposed to blood during the course of my work. Though I have no particular love of that occupational hazard, still I persist because I believe that God wants me to take certain risks to try to heal those in crisis. Though I do not believe for a moment that I personally merit a comparison to Christ, I realized that perhaps Christ’s experience of mortality could represent a wound that is illuminating in its similarity, a wound of purity lost through risks undertaken for the good of others. The loss of my ritual purity through my work to heal those in need has often struck me as emblematic of the ineluctable ironies–salvific paradoxes–of mortality.
The second is much less ritually fraught. Periodically over the years–the last time one year ago–I have been called to “mourn with those who mourn” (Mosiah 18:9). Once every several years it seems the overwhelming sadness experienced by someone I love will evoke in me the convulsing sobs of an ancient grief, one that overrides my normally circumspect affect and seems to shatter the illusion that my mind controls my body. The loss of a child, an unexpected life-threatening illness, severe depression, the loss of a sibling or parent–I have shared with people I love each of these mortal tragedies. Though I would wish that we were spared such experiences, intense sympathetic grief has become sacred to me, has harrowed my soul to allow the planting of the seeds of immortal love. Indeed, if the divine life is what we can anticipate after death, then we would do well to remember that Christ wept at Lazarus’s death (John 11:35) and God the Father wept in the presence of Enoch (Moses 7).
I do not believe that understanding the meaning of evil in our lives–what Christian theologians dress up as theodicy, “God’s righteousness”–is as simple as invoking divine pedagogical goals (as we LDS are sometimes caricaturized)–what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, no pain no gain, we suffer that we might learn, et cetera are slogans sometimes brutal in their simplification. No moral lesson seems able to justify the loss of a young mother to cancer, the loss of one’s independence and personality to traumatic brain injury or mental illness. There is truth, though, lurking somewhere beneath these platitudes about a higher purpose in suffering. When I weep with my afflicted beloveds, there is a moral clarity and purity that carves eternity into me and deepens the bonds I feel with others. I think that may be the life that Christ enjoins upon us, a life in which occasional evils, afflictions, and miseries endemic to mortality are interspersed with (and indeed causally associated with) tenderness and love, commitment and conviction. While I do not wish misery on anyone, least of all those I love, when the inevitable misery comes, I yearn to be counted with Christ at the bedside of the sufferer. And I thank God, not for the misery, but for the troubling intensity of my love that seems to deepen as I seek to obey that ancient American baptismal covenant to mourn with those who mourn.
 The current risk of infection from the blood supply is probably on the order of 1 in 500,000 units (we no longer call them “pints,” the recent popularity of neo-Victorian vampire fables notwithstanding) of blood; it was rather higher in the 1980s.