Thursday, August 4, 2005
While cleaning and flushing a cut on my seven-year-old son Leo's foot a few weeks ago, it was obvious he was in physical pain. As any father would do, I did everything I could to alleviate his worries and pain. But it was a cut that was on the underside of a toe, right where it bends - and that can only hurt.
I said to him in a confident tone, "Leo, don't worry, pain is temporary."
And in all the honesty of the a child and with a slight tear in his eye, Leo responded, "I don't have any idea what that means, Dad..."
There I was, attempting to remove my son's pain by dosing him with an ambiguous expression. Needless to say, the expression helped a lot less than the band-aid I applied. And after thinking about his honest and somewhat humorous response, I would most likely agree. I'm not sure I have a good idea of what that expression means...
It will be 19 years ago this August that my father passed away in his sleep. It was emotionally excruciating, especially since he died on the night of my grandfather's wake. The pain experienced at the death of a parent - especially sudden and unexpected - is almost impossible to describe. I can't begin to imagine experiencing [and pray I never have to] the death of a spouse or one's own child. It is a pain that is so excruciating that it almost paralyzes you from any hope and and anesthetizes your very spirit and will. But the wave of pain eventuallyand slowly recedes...
The day of my wedding, the birth of my children, the periodic family gatherings, the moments I long for a saged mentor - all moments when that receded pain suddenly pools up around my heart. It is nowhere near the intensity it was in 1986, but similar to a permanent scar left after the wound has healed, the evidence of that once painful time remains visible and evident.
Foolish but not fatal mistakes we make throughout Life that hurt others - scars we carry of the pain we intentionally and unintentionally inflicted. Relationships that dissolved around us without any personal ability to control another's choice to do the dissolving - scars we carry of the pain felt for taking the risk of daring to love. A tragic accident, a gruesome happenchance and we are left without a particular limb for the rest of our physical life - an all-too-physical scar of the pain we feel for seeming "incomplete." Pain is temporary? Perhaps the physical soreness eventually fades; the wound heals and only a scar remains. But the pain (emotional, spiritual, psychological) may be much more than temporary.
In speaking with climbing teammates from across the globe on the days leading to and following our Mt. Rainier summit attempt, we were able to and wanted to share our life journeys with one another. Climbing up and hanging onto a mountain's edge has the tendency of bringing out the personal side of a person. Within those life journeys shared up and down the Mountain, I remain amazed at the amount of pain that human beings can absorb, deal with and move beyond. And the one thing that remained consistent within those journeys was that the pain was rarely temporary. It was their pain that changed their life and its direction and further clarified their personal purpose... and all the while, the pain dulled, seemed to remain.
What will I share with Leo about the very virtue and essence of pain when he's older? I have no idea at this moment but I have come to believe that the pain and joy experienced in this lifetime are inexplicably intertwined. To risk to care, to love, to chance, to reach out always seems to have a built-in component for potential hurt and pain. But we humans continue to care, love, chance and reach out - we'll take the scars with the joy and love. It's this aspect of human nature that is probably the most valiant and noble of all.
So, for the meantime, I guess I'll concentrate on helping heal the wounds first... then we'll deal with the scars later.
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