Brazen happiness in the face of suffering
R-C Alpine Bureau
His eyes were closed as we entered his room in the emergency section of the hospital. He was hooked up to every machine imaginable. My sons and I had visited Ron Kwiek many times previously in Carson Tahoe. This time it was even worse, and we did not think he would make it. The doctors gave him a 5 percent chance.
Hearing us, he woke up, his face lighting up in a huge grin. “Hey, how’s the house coming? Have they put on the roof yet?” he queried.
Tears ran down my cheeks. “Here you are, suffering so deeply, and you are asking about our house?!” I replied. I told him I could not understand why God would allow this horrific level of agony. Ron had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or ‘MS’ as it is more commonly called. Since we had met him, the disease had progressed. Each year he had lost more and more movement and his pain had increased dramatically.
His smile did not dim. “Can you see God in how I respond to my suffering?” he replied. “Even in the most difficult of times, God is always there. I would be willing to suffer far more if it allowed someone else to perceive that.”
“We can see it: let the suffering end now!” I responded.
He overcame the 5 percent odds that time. But his trials did not stop but instead continued to intensify. Never once did I hear him complain, or show any resentment for his difficult journey in life.
It is in the autumn that I miss him the most. Our families would take old-fashioned Sunday drives into the aspen groves of Alpine County to see the golden cloak of leaves fall over the earth before the start of winter. We would stop at places where Ron would be able to get out in his wheelchair, or just park and enjoy the vista from the car. My sons would bring back fallen branches, pine cones, and special stones for him to observe more closely. He radiated joy and thankfulness.
As an artist, Ron was deeply connected to the creator and his creation. He loved the peaks and valleys, the glorious sunrises and sunsets. He was not only the happiest person I had ever met, but the most at peace.
He was 27 when diagnosed with MS, changing the trajectory of his life. Ron moved to Carson Valley in 1975 at the age of 32 because he adored the incredible contrasts of warm light and cool darkness that so uniquely manifest themselves in the surrounding mountains, meandering rivers, and cloud shadows that blow across the windswept desert.
He had graduated from Pacific Union College with a degree in commercial art, headed for a high-powered career. Ron taught at Napa College for nine years, and after moving here also taught some watercolor classes at the Brewery Arts Center. He was president of the Nevada Rural Center of Independent Living, and involved in several exhibitions sponsored by both the national and local branches of the Very Special Arts organization. Ron put together a series of four prints called the Carson Valley Collection, highlighting some of his favorite places: original buildings at Walley’s Hot Springs, a tree in the winter snow, the valley fog racing across the face of high, rugged slopes, and a historic Carson Valley barn.
He was never bitter. Instead, he searched for alternatives as he lost his ability to hold a brush. He worked early in the morning when he had the most energy, and put together his paintings in a spontaneous fashion, capturing the essence of a scene in broad strokes with minimum detail. Later, he invented what he called “painting in my mind’s eye.” He would imagine mixing the colors and applying them to his work. With his characteristically positive outlook, he said mistakes were much easier to correct this way.
In 1993, he moved to Los Angeles where his sister Sharon helped watch over him for three years until his death at age 53.
In one of his letters from L.A. he wrote: “I pray for blessings for you and your family. My belief is when you pray for blessings it means that anything that happens to you and yours is a blessing.” For Ron everything came under the heading of “a blessing.”
In his small book ”God has been, is, and will be, good to all people” Ron reports that he was filled with fearful thoughts when he was first diagnosed with such a debilitating disease.
He wrote: “Then I read the story of Job. He wasn’t afraid to question God. Why couldn’t I? I countered my fears and demanded an audience with God. I took up my vigil in my wheelchair, just as Job did in the desert. The answer came, not while I was thinking of my miserable condition, but as I was contemplating the character of God. For the first time in my life I saw that he needed me to answer the accusations of Satan as Job did. Right there I dedicated my life to making God look good. My wheelchair became my witnessing post.”
Many years after Ron passed, I had an incredible dream. Mercifully, I had arrived in Heaven, surrounded by all those I had loved who had died. We sat in a great circle, and Ron was there in his wheelchair.
As I was looked around at all of them, I finally realized: “Why was Ron in his wheelchair here?”
He answered that he didn’t need to be, and standing up slowly, said “I was in it so you could remember that you can be happy anywhere, at any time, in any circumstance.”
That was how he had lived his life. No matter what happened he was grateful and joyous. In my dream we smiled and I felt such deep gratitude for him, as I do still to this day.