As I navigate the long, white hospital halls, making sure they know we’re here at the check-in desk and asking all the seemingly right questions, before my mom’s procedure, I cling to each bit of information from a wrinkle above my left eye. All of my life training has left the building, and I am left, with the intense weight of a boulder on my chest, a headache and a lack of legs to hold me up. No amount of understanding the step-by-step of what will happen changes this. It is simply not a salve for the pain and fear.
None of our go-to tendencies are. But why on earth would we not try to avoid, postpone, become numb to pain? Pain hurts. It cuts, stings, aches, burns, throbs, twinges, cramps, takes our breath away and so on. We are regularly bombarded by slogans and pain-killers and miracle treatments and state-of-the art surgeries all aimed at conquering pain. We separate emotional pain from our physical pains, as if our body could tell the difference. One we treat by talking about, analyzing and understanding it. The other requires ice, tiger balm and physical therapy. We have no time for pain. It’s inconvenient, and yet it must be “dealt with,” as an enemy to be subdued, overcome, and ultimately not felt.
But at some point we will all stub our toes. At some point, we won’t get a phone call back. At some point, we will lose a loved one. So what are we to do when these part-of-life things happen? How do we navigate this inherent aspect of life?
What if we go to where it hurts? What if we touch it and let it be touched?
Pain, in its simplicity, is meant to be felt. And once it is, it’s actually very generous. It wakes us up, makes us physical, attentive, aware and alive. Our senses are heightened, our mind becomes attuned, our actions relevant. When we distance ourselves from it, less so, as the effort we invest to not feel what is, removes us from what is actually happening. We miss things in life when we’re resistant.
So while I may still attempt to postpone pain in my own way, I am now more quickly willing to feel it, as it is. And when I do, it softens me, and I find I am more sensitive to the pain of others. It makes me more human. And I lose less of life’s moments.
So, we’re back in the treatment room now. My mom lies face down. I scooch my chair in close, unclench my chest, and I remember what to do. I put my hand on her back, and we breathe. And just like that, the procedure is over, and I find us a short-cut back to the car.