On Pain

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― C.S. Lewis

I notice lately more pain within the body. Aching pain in fingers as they type and play piano. Stabbing pain in a shoulder when I reach back. Dull pain in the stomach area when I have to do something for which I feel inadequately equipped. Searing pain in injured feet where I have numerous cracks due to sensitive skin. Crushing pain at times in the head due to years of clenching my jaw. Pain in places I previously felt nothing. Pain where I once felt fine. Pain. It accompanies me now wherever I go. Accompanies me now whatever I do.

It feels rampant, cropping up everywhere. Just like its infamous side-kick: stress.

I had an aunt who died when I was a young adult. In her late forties, she was going to a Nursing Convention in New Minas, Nova Scotia on a winter’s day, when she came upon black ice. Indeed it was a patch of treacherous ice which immediately sent her tumbling over the bridge on the highway she was traveling, to a ravine far below. She broke her neck in the plummeting spiral that sent her car to its demise, but interestingly- she was aware enough in her injury to take her own pulse. She knew her neck had been broken, but she was able to relay directions to the emergency crew that worked on her, telling them exactly what to do so as to salvage what little of her systems that remained. She eventually became paralyzed as a result of that car accident (occurring in her late adulthood), an accident which left her without feeling from her chest down.

I remember one time she had relayed a story to my mother about wheeling her wheel chair into a room. Wishing to reverse, she began to back out of the room, at which time she jammed her hand in between the spokes of her wheelchair. She kept pushing and pushing on it, wondering why she could not go backwards any further. Coming to find out that it was her own hand that prevented her from moving any further, she realized her own inability to feel pain had been the cause of even more trouble for her.

Because of her inability to feel pain in most of her body, she was unable to prevent injury to herself on numerous occasions. To give another instance, she also relayed the story about burning her hand on the stove trying to remove a pot from the burner. Not realizing that her hand was on the burner, she had left her hand there on the coils so as to support herself in removing a pot. Her melting flesh what alerted her that there was a problem.

Pain is a double-edged sword. With it, we feel like we die slowly. Without it, we know we die faster. But the very response which can be so unpleasant, that which we wish we could eliminate all together, is what we need to survive. Why is it that the thing which can at times save us is the very thing we wish to free ourselves of? Certainly, pain is a necessary response to injury. Because, in truth: while pain hurts (and we don’t like hurt), it is the alarm bell that also rescues. We need the hurt further so as to experience the reality that life presents to us.

John Keats (on pain): “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

And C. Joybell C. (on pain as well): “Pain is a pesky part of being human, I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart, something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here. Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped. But then I have also learned that because of pain, I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing. Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart. But then healing feels like the wind against your face when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air! We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.”
Pain is necessary. While difficult and trying, it is the body and soul’s means of sensing trouble so as to make sense of the hurt and find ways to cope. Pain makes us alive to our senses. It helps us feel, to know, to understand. And it enriches our lives by providing depth and context to an otherwise bland existence.”

I sometimes wish I could live without the pain. There are some pains that are certainly more worthwhile than others. The pain of childbirth brought me more rewards than that recurring pain I feel from stress in my abdomen, each and every day. But all my pain-body reminds me of what I have. And when equilibrium is restored, even if but for a short time, I am grateful. Grateful for the body and for the sense of pain I feel within that body.

We must learn to embrace pain, accepting that it is often through pain that we see the beauty that unfolds in its wake.  Pain reminds us all of what we have and what we so often take for granted.

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