Sit with a cup of tea. Meet your uninvited guest. For we all call pain a stranger, and yet we know it well from childhood scrapes or reckless choices. We like to think we can control pain. So we won't notice it in the room, or in our bones. We will put it in a box on a high shelf and if we do take it out, that is a failing on our part. If our pain sees the light of day, if it is shared with family and friends, we must not be strong enough, or healthy enough, or balanced enough to control our pain. Well, how can we explain this guest that finds and grips us, that catches and strikes us, that breaks and makes us? How can we share what we keep in the high boxes in dark corners?
How do we measure pain? Does the scale of 0 being no pain and 10 being unbearable pain truly hold our stories? What about that 10, when it can't possibly get worse . . . and then it does.
Does the scale change? Do we change?
And what of the smaller numbers, the 2s and 3s? The small aches and torments that sneak into sunshine-moments and they are not any big number, yet they never go away. The pain greets each sunrise and slips between the sheets at bedtime. The pain that follows everywhere. Involved in everything. And aggravating it may bring it to a 4 or 5, but really, who can't handle a 4 or 5?
Until it happens every single hour of every day for weeks stretching into years?
So how can we describe this guest at the tea-table of our lives? Should we use baskets and bushels? I carried four baskets of pain to the grocery store and returned home with five?
Or perhaps we create a recipe that captures the subtleties of our experience? A dash of soreness mixed with two cups of agony and a sprinkling of fatigue? Simmer for 6 hours then carry carefully through the evening. Keep in a cool, dark place and do not shake or stir.
Or distance? Would that capture the journey? You will carry this pain for five miles. Or across the continent. Or perhaps to the moon. And even that may not be long enough to out-carry this pain. You may have a return trip. You may hope to outrun it . . . but it's fast. It will follow you anywhere.
So maybe we measure the lost moments. You will miss four birthday parties, your niece's graduation, and two county fairs. You will miss volunteering in your child's classroom. And the weekly friend-gatherings because you will be wore out and antisocial at that time of day. You will miss fourteen hikes and five vacations.
Or walls. This pain brings you 32 walls. Walls between you and a chosen career, between you and that concert with the crazy long lines that will burn into you so that the music becomes background noise. Walls around ideas. Around choices. Around opportunities.
Or changes. This pain brings 45 changes to your world. New jobs, new equipment like wheelchairs, new schedules. New medications.
Or perhaps pain is defined by how we are seen. Fourteen people will notice your pain. Seven will wonder if you have a headache. And then you will improve.
Except . . . and here is the tricky thing. What is there is no measuring? What if the pain won't go away? It cannot be held by baskets or miles, by walls or numbers? It is all day, every day and it will never end? What then? How do you look that stranger in the eye and say, you and me, let's dance, forever?
And not go crazy?
Because once this guest has you, you learn that control is an illusion. You thought this dance was a choice, a consequence of bad behavior or unwise habits, but it isn't. And the medications have side effects. And relying on them implies that you are not strong enough to manage the pain on your own. And no one truly understands. This mad tea party. That is your everyday life.
So we greet this stranger that is now our companion and we become resourceful and stronger than we ever knew. We do the best we can. And find that the pain, while owning us, does not bury us. And in the rubble of our former lives, we find seeds of new understanding and new ideas. We find hidden moments tucked on those high shelves. Moments of quiet. Moments of stillness. When we slow down and watch the sunset. Read a story. Appreciate one lovely morning when the pain may fade for awhile.
For the pain will not last forever, really. None of us last forever. So even with our challenges, we can feel the sunshine and the breeze and listen to the hush of our own breathing and in that we are beyond the pain. Beyond the measuring. We are wild and luminous and lucky. Enjoying this cup of sweet tea.