Friday, May 22, 2009

Five Things: Pain

I have been trying to get my mind around this for nearly nine months now. The fact that I have been unable to formulate even a vaguely articulate post should give you an idea of how mystified I am. It remains one of the great questions rippling away from a death by suicide:

How/Why?From whence? ~ so much pain? Enough that would cause a person to self-destruct?

I am told, by people who should know, that those who die by suicide do not comprehend the finality and completeness of their actions. That they would not leave notes seeking forgveness if they understood that they would not be here to receive that forgiveness. That they are so blinded by pain that their vision tunnels toward one goal: end the agony.

I have experienced my share of pain in this life. I have experienced losses beyond the norm for a middle class American woman of the 21st century. And having spent several years teaching in a Jewish school, I know many people whose losses rank among the worst in human history. I know about bodies, minds, dreams, being shattered beyond repair ~ as do most of us, sooner or later.

And yet, apparently, there is a realm of pain which I have not yet encountered, which most of us will never experience, no matter how many circles of hell we traverse in this life.

It is almost ~ and yet not ~ unendurable, to absorb the reality that a child whom I carried in my body, to whom I gave birth, and whose humor and kindnesss and creativity and intelligence I nurtured and treasured for 25 years, could have encountered such excruciating pain in this life, a life offered to him as pure gift.

And it seems odd, I know, that I should finally be writing this little post on the same day that I am elsewhere rejoicing over my daughter's college graduation, with photos of handsome and beautiful young celebrants and images of the natural beauty we found visiting her in Oregon. But the reality is that we do have to absorb them both ~ the joy and the horror ~ and carry them both with us. All the time.

In his essay The Things They Carried, in the book of the same title, Tim O'Brien lists the things that men carried with them through the jungles and paddies of Vietnam. All kinds of things. Me, too. In Oregon I carried a camera, and a pair of binoculars, and a cell phone, and crumpled up hotel receipts, and e-tickets, and memories of a graduation in Chicago two years earlier, and of a young man who would have looked proudly at his sister's Phi Bete key and chuckled, "Guess I should have put in a little more effort that last year ~ you beat me out!" ~ and I carried the knowledge that some of us conceal more pain than the rest of us imagine exists.

I have found some considerable help lately in a book in which the author talks about "lovingly allowing the other." It's what we try to do in spiritual direction, when we listen with attention and reverence to the story of another person's walk with God, and it has occurred to me that it is what I have to do with my son. The pain he encountered is outside my realm of experience, but I can, at least, lovingly allow his life, his otherness, to be, and honor him rather than to try to impose myself upon him.

On Mother's Day night, we went to see The Soloist, the movie about the brilliantly talented cellist, Nathaniel Ayers, whose schizophrenia revealed itself during his sojourn as a young man at Julliard and propelled him into a life on the streets. I leaned against my other son later that night and said, "That was a surprisingly good choice for this evening." All through the movie I wondered, Why? Why so much pain? Why is one man Yo-Yo Ma, and another Nathaniel Ayers? Why is one so able to embrace and share his gifts, and another so trapped by such harsh limitations?

I don't know why. But it is so.

Lovingly allowing the other. The only possibility for the rest of us.

10 comments:

Michele said...

sending you warm thoughts...

Purple said...

I keep seeing a bridge when I read your posts. A bridge...connecting.

karengberger said...

Yes, I think it's a beautiful way of putting it. Perhaps it's a mirror of the way God sees us, as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here with me. I appreciate reading them, and they make me feel less alone in my grief. God bless you.

Michelle said...

I stood up at Vespers tonight and chanted psalms as we celebrated a woman who lost husband and sons, and was then denied entry into the convent she had sought since childhood. I looked into the faces of women who I know to have lost husbands and children, and thought about that mix of joy and pain. I walked of the dim church and felt the cool breeze of the evening mixing with the overwhelming heat of the day. There is something undescribably "other" about that mix of warm and cool, joy and pain...

Sarah S-D said...

(o)

Anonymous said...

...your agony and your ecstasy...

Daisy said...

"Lovingly allowing the other."I'm learning that this is the thing which with I do the most battle. Like the others who comment here, I am equally grateful for your sharing.

Mich

Cynthia said...

Amen.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Lovingly allowing the other. That phrase helps me understand a process I had to go through myself.

I remember the anger I felt when my brother died. He'd had emergency surgery for an aneurysm in July, but when it popped again in December, he chose not to get help and bled to death after four days. I felt so furious and betrayed. But I finally had to realize that I didn't know how that pain and suffering and slow recovery felt to him, what it was like to be inside his skin.

Even though I have not experienced the unimaginable pain of losing a child, so often, what I read here helps me understand things from my past. I thank you for your vulnerability and your commitment to sort through your pain. It has a wider application than I think you know.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could describe for you the complete void that is the pain a person experiences when contemplating suicide. It's not like the death of a loved one or any of life's losses - those are actually bearable with time. While I (for rather foolish reasons) did not complete my act, I cannot say that if I even feel that way again, I would choose to live. So I live in a way that will keep me from that dark place. And my foolish reason (a work schedule that got changed and an overly developed sense of responsiblity) was probably the work of something/someone/some force that I have yet to understand. I wish for you whatever you need to live in a world when joy and pain can occur simultaneously.