|I did get a little project done, after all. Here's life on the edge, which became the front facing of grandson Solay's birthday card.|
A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from my oldest grandgirl. She had an assignment due and wanted to ask me some questions – questions about wisdom... “because I think you are wise and would know the answers,” she said, then hesitated a beat, before adding, “and you’re old.”
Ha! Okay, my dear, I will cop to being old, but as to wise? Not so much.
Last week’s blog, about the push-pull emotional relationship we feel between relaxation and guilt, was an easy one to write. Guilt, I’m finding, is a story everyone can relate to – a universal experience. Saying thank-you and living joyfully helps us overcome the guilt.
This week, however, it’s a different story. It too is about a universal condition: pain, the pain you feel when people you love go through tough times. Nobody is exempted from that kind of pain unless they’ve opted out of the human race: someone you love is seriously ill, or your children are going through a crisis, or the money is gone and the bills are due, or addiction is destroying a life, a marriage is falling apart ... well, you can fill in your own blank. We, too, experienced some of that pain this week. And wisdom fails me.
It would be so nice to just bury the pain, to deny its existence: “Yep, that’s life, take it on the chin and move on. It doesn’t hurt so much if you keep moving.” Or, perhaps, to find a quick and easy answer, a glib cliche or a Bible text that whitewashes the pain: “God doesn’t close a door unless he opens a window. Look around, you will find a hidden opportunity in this situation.” Or, we could get trapped in the pain, until it becomes a way of life: “What else could I have expected? Life’s a bummer and then you die. Suck it up, sweet pea, there’s more coming down the pike.”
The trouble with burying, or glossing over pain, or getting trapped in it, is that these solutions stifle growth. Unacknowledged pain belittles us, keeps us smaller and tighter and more shrivelled so that we cannot freely become all that we could be. It is a thorn in the side, a piece of grit in our souls, always there, marring the possibilities still waiting in your life.
Unfortunately I have no wise solution to my pain. Fortunately, there are wiser folks around who may help. I open a book by Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark, that gives me food for thought. Beuchner has been through his share of pain – a father who committed suicide, a beloved daughter who almost died of anorexia. And he’s much older than I am!
Rather than burying our pain, or glossing it over, or getting trapped in it, Buechner suggests we become stewards of our pain. Originally a steward was someone who was responsible for, took care of, protected, the goods of his master. For instance, he might take care of his master’s money and invest it for profits, or might supervise the running of the farm so that in the master’s absence, it thrived.
In the same way, says Buechner, we are stewards of life, with all its joys and with all its pain.
|life on the edge: morning|
|life on the edge: evening. Same scene, different colours. Like life.|
As good stewards, Buechner suggests, we might consider the word trade – something a good steward would do when looking after the master’s goods. To trade is “to give what we have, in return for what we need. [In life] what we have is essentially what we are, and what we need is essentially each other.” We need each other, especially in the painful times.
It’s very easy to trade our joys – joy overflows, and infects others. Not so easy to share our pain, and let others support and help us. Yet in this act of sharing and trading, we open ourselves up to the possibility of growth.
He writes. “Perhaps more than anything else, the universal experience of pain is what makes us all the brothers and sisters, the parents and children, of each other, and the story of one of us is the story of all of us...We are never more in touch with hope than we are [in pain], if only the hope of another human presence to be with us and for us.”
We share our pain with one or two people, and they listen; they lightly touch your shoulder; their eyes reflect your pain and you know you are not alone. Someone, hesitantly, shares their pain with you, and you have the opportunity to grow in compassion, to grow in your understanding of how we are all linked in this thing called life.
“What is perhaps most precious about pain is that if it doesn’t destroy us, it can confer on us a humanity that needs no words to tell of it, and that can help others become human even as they can help us,” Buechner concludes.
Buechner’s words have given me much to think about. They are, perhaps, not the last words in pain-management, but they are wise words.
I won’t have a lot of time to think, however: this week is the week of much joy, as some of our kids and grandkids hang out with us out here by the sea and we celebrate our 45th anniversary. Pain and joy: life is a mixed bag, for sure...and I hope I will be a good steward of it.