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Clio's Temple

The uses of pain

Pain is a bad thing. That's what most of us believe, and most of the time we're right. Whether it's the dull nagging of a chronic ailment or the stab of a sudden shock, pain puts us off our game, becomes the center of attention, and wears out its welcome very quickly.

This is not to say that pain has no uses. Some pains clue us in that something is wrong with our bodies or our minds. That's not the point. I've found that one use of pain is to focus our attentions on things we can't see when all is right with the world.

Faith, Hope, and Dr. Vangelis took shape from such pain. Specifically, from the loss of three much-loved family members in early 2014, all within the space of three weeks. When my mind was clear enough of the immediate distress from those deaths, it began to zero in on the question: How do we handle it when the worst news becomes a reality? How do we handle the betrayal of our hopes? How do we go forward when our emotions tell us to run away, to do something that will make the pain stop?

In 1999, my wife was seriously injured in a head-on collision less than five miles from our house. For a couple of hours, I didn't know whether she was alive or dead. After the relief of knowing that she survived the crash, a new reality hit me in the face: things would never be the same. The consequences for her have been drastic. She lives every day with pain. It will be that way for the rest of her life.

It would, of course, have been much worse if she had died. Death is a condition that permits no improvement. The dead have no pain, if that's any consolation. We often console ourselves with the knowledge that "at least she's not in pain any longer." That is cold comfort for an empty bed where a loved one slept, an empty chair, an empty seat at the table.

The real paradox of pain is that, without it, we would never know the emptiness that would come from a life without it. Like work and love, perhaps pain is the price we pay for being fully functioning human beings. That's the closest thing to an answer I can come up with.

1 Comment to The uses of pain:

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