On Pain

The child huddles in the corner of her room, her hands covering her ears. She crawls along the floor, careful not to let go of the wall, careful not to lose the strange comfort it provides.

She reaches the closet, grasping for the knob with her elbows, before she realizes that she must let at least one hand drop from her ears to open the door, to hide in the precious anonymity of her own closet. She must drop her hand, and she prepares herself, knowing that her ear will be left defenseless against the screaming.

The hand falls, slowly, and the demons enter her room, her ear, her head. She listens to her mother shriek in pain. She hears her beg, please, no, stop, and she marvels at the fact that a fist can turn her once proud mother into the defenseless creature now pleading for her life.

The child closes the closet door carefully so as not to remind the monster of her presence. If she sobs too loudly, he will come for her, too, and surely, she will die.


The story above is, quite obviously, one of tremendous pain. Pain itself is a word so often thrown about in this English language of ours, and yet so few of us understand the depth of the word; far fewer know its power.

Those who know me or read me know that I am no stranger to pain. I have that experience to cling to, to remind me, and now I have the benefit of hindsight to help me understand pain.

The story of the child is one of unimaginable pain. Few of us can ever truly know the feeling of listening to your mother being beaten to death in the next room, of knowing that if you utter a word, you’re next. Yet we read this story, and countless others like it. We watch on the television as character after character walks through the pits of hell, some to emerge, and some not. Those that crawl their way back from the inferno are scarred, sometimes beyond recognition.

Those people know more of life than we ever will.

To live is to feel, and to feel is, inevitably, to feel pain. When it comes, we hide, like a child huddled in a closet. We tell the pain to go away: we just want to feel joy again.

But when that pain comes for you, opening yourself to it can be a great gift. When it comes for me, I embrace it as one would embrace an old friend. I take it in my hands, I roll it over the tips of my fingers, and I notice how deep my breaths are, how alive my mind, how tender my heart. It never stays long, this pain- that is important to remember- but when it leaves, something is lost. The farewell is bittersweet, and I always thank the pain for visiting.

Life can be precisely measured by how deeply we are cut. The little girl in the story has felt life to a degree that the comfortable among us will never know.

Suffering is optional; pain is not, the Buddha once said. He was right. Everyone that lives will feel pain. To some, it will be foreign, something to be rid of as quickly as possible. To some, it will be so intertwined with life itself that they can scarcely distinguish between the two. To those, the embracers, life is fuller and richer than can be imagined by those who think it a nuisance.

To go through life avoiding pain is as pointless as pretending that you have only one arm. Despite your delusions, the other arm remains, and by denying its existence, you deny its usefulness.

Get to know your pain. Hold it up to the light and see how parts of it reflect the sun’s rays, while some parts absorb it. Get to know its feel, its texture. Listen closely that you might hear its voice. It may one day whisper to you the secret of life.