The Gift of Pain
By Stephanie Miller
It’s been a rough year for almost everyone I know. I watched CNN as people cried about their lost homes destroyed in Texas by floods and in California by fires. I can’t help but notice how I want to look away from the TV when someone cries, as if their pain might be infectious.
This summer I lost my mom just as I was recovering from a painful, difficult surgery. Like many people I’ve had a lot of reasons to think about the nature of pain. (Don’t worry I’m not about to talk about the silver lining now) Pain is a universal human experience. I personally don’t know anyone who has entirely avoided pain in this life.
While I was being treated for physical pain I noticed how uncomfortable everyone, including medical professionals, are with seeing pain. Even when I said that I found my pain tolerable some of my doctors would prescribe pain medication, “just in case.” The fact is that no likes to be in pain or see pain. We all want to look away.
Last fall I found myself in the ER in excruciating pain. As tears streamed down my face I noticed something amazing. I wasn’t alone. Everyone else in the ER was also in pain. Through my tears I noticed the man in a chair across from me, bleeding and bruised, he looked as though he had fallen off of his bike. Although my pain was different I was able to remember a bicycle accident I had in college, it took weeks for the huge wounds on my legs and arms to heal. I knew the road that was ahead of him and I felt genuine compassion for his situation.
Then something completely amazing happened. I felt deeply connected to everyone in the ER. I knew suddenly and irrevocably that our pain had knitted us together in a deeply intimate way. It was our common experience that superseded age, gender, politics and personal history. My own pain could be transmuted into compassion and most important of all I felt better. The simple act of connecting to others in pain MADE ME FEEL BETTER. This is brilliance of support groups and peer counseling; people can connect by using shared pain.
I can’t really say I like it or that I want more pain but at least I understand it a little better. And maybe the next time I see someone crying I won’t need to look away.