The Heroic Duty of Pain

School drop-off was hard today. My little pre-schooler was having a mini panic attack on the way to the reading room. She did that jagged breathing and crying thing that kids do and she wouldn’t let go when I hugged her goodbye. I swear I could feel her anxiety passing out of her tiny heart and into mine.

And then on the way to the car, I checked the news and saw Death and Justice in the same sentence and Hatred in the footnotes and my chest opened up a little bit more so that my heart was in real danger. I thought of the fear and pain that’s spreading like wildfire in our country and it made it hard to drive home.

It hurts. It hurts deep down and I’m trying to figure out the virtue in all of this: what’s helpful about caring so much when it’s debilitating?

I’ve searched for an answer and this is what I’ve found:

Emotions make us more rational (not less). They slam on the brakes, tap our Intellect on the shoulder and say, “Hey! Chill out a second. There’s other shit going on, here.”

And we should be smart enough to listen.

If Intellect is the great professor scribbling out equations on the whiteboard, then Emotion is the disheveled guidance counselor charging out of her office with her hands waving to remind us all what’s really important — staying intact.

And not in some bullshit way that looks good on the surface…

Rather, in doing the deep work, which is often as simple as slowing down and feeling bad.

Although it doesn’t seem like it, feeling bad and experiencing pain is part of the solution; it’s just a little further back in the process than the part we all prefer.

Emotion, and Pain in particular, points us to the things that keep us whole.

We will be much better off when we realize it’s okay to lose ourselves in pain. Just don’t slip down another level into that freezing cold mist of Numbness. I’ve been there before, I’ve gone down too deep; I don’t want to go there again.

Always seek Pain over Numbness.

Pain is better than Numbness because something comes after Pain. With Numbness, there is no beginning or end, or so it seems that way when you’re standing in the middle of it. It’s like a fog that bleaches the landscape so you can’t see the contours of anything anymore.

At least with Pain, you’re headed somewhere.

This is helpful to remember — to seek Pain instead of Numbness — when your heart is breaking and you feel the coolness on your back… like I do now.

The Pain will save you. Go to it like a light. Once you step into it, it will do the rest. It will wrap itself around you, like a guidance counselor, like a papa hugging his daughter goodbye, always treasuring your open heart and dutifully carrying you away from the fog.