Ain't that the truth? On the outside, we all somehow manage to carry ourselves with a relative amount of finesse. But somehow behind every facade there is, beyond doubt, something to be hidden.
I'm not what one would call an especially... emotive person. It became clear to me several weeks ago, more than ever, how often my indifference shows through. Whether it's at work, church, or just in every day life, it seems that I am marked by indifference. Rightfully so, I suppose, since most days I find I make the conscious choice to be an observer rather than a player throughout the course of the day.
The summer before I started my freshman year at university, my parents let me travel to China for vacation, alone. The original intention was to have me go with my father, but my grandmother had contracted cancer and was getting sicker pretty quickly. I was given two options: either cancel the plane ticket and go some other time, or just go by myself while my father stayed at home to take care of my grandma. I, thinking this would be my *last chance* to have a *real* vacation, chose the latter.
I was gone for a month. Two weeks in, I received a call that my grandmother had passed away. For the rest of the month, and a couple days after I returned home from China, I wondered to myself whether or not I made the "correct" choice of going to China after all. To everyone around me, however, I don't know if I showed an ounce of distress or pain, whereas everyone else who was close to my grandmother showed some kind of remorse, sadness, regret, etc.
So I began to think why this was. It wasn't like I didn't care—I most certainly did. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe I just wasn't expressing it. Like many emotions, perhaps the pain that I felt had been internalized while it was an external expression for others. And just like other emotions, pain is (maybe obviously) a reaction. We all experienced the same event, but our reactions—our pains—were different. For me, it was and still is an internal one. One that feels like someone, somewhere, is flipping a switch on and off at their own discretion. At one point, maybe the pang of pain rushes in momentarily. Then, it is gone as quickly as it came. For others, pain was a wall to push against, never receding or giving an inch.
I also began to think about the recovery process. After pain, should we choose, there is a period of time when we begin to recover what we have lost. In my case, it was guilt. Guilt that maybe I could have stayed, or guilt that I was too greedy. Every once in a while, that guilt of greed will come back. In the summer of my freshman year, I realized I had nothing terribly important to do and suddenly, the switch turned on again, if only for a second. Thoughts like, I could have waited a year and gone to China now instead of then. And I began to think, it is best to avoid these kinds of feelings.
Who wants to feel pain, anyway? I'll just say it: pain sucks. It can be debilitating, fatiguing, draining... any number of things, really. And the worst part about it really is that it's unavoidable. Pain is an unrelenting storm that batters us until we're barely alive. It's a spreading darkness that slowly envelops or psyches until what's left is but a shell of who we once were. An indomitable force that pushes until we break. So, against those odds, why bother with it at all?
Well, because that's how we grow. The more pain hits us, the more opportunities we have to hit back. Like a muscle, we grow when we are torn down and build ourselves back up again. And if that's true, then what a blessing it is for pain to be ever-present. Instead of trying to avoid what can't be avoided, perhaps what we should do is to let pain happen.
You don't learn how to play a guitar by watching a video and saying, "Ah, yes, now I know how to play guitar," or watching your friend learn and saying, "Now that you have learned, I guess I have, too." That's not how it works. No, you tirelessly press your fingers against metal strings (metal strings. think about that.) until the tips are calloused and you can finally say, "Ah, yes, now I know how to play the G chord." Then you start all over for every other note you want to play.
When I think about that summer when my greed took over and I took a vacation in China while everyone else grieved, I think about how that same greed is what has caused many other problems in my life. But without that wake-up call, maybe I never would have learned my lesson. And so we grow.
Suffering from emotional pain isn't so much about dealing with its effects as much as it is about learning how to use it as a resource and a reminder to change yourself. When I was given this topic for this post (that is, how I deal with emotional pain), I guess the short answer is this: I don't. I don't "deal" with anything in what I guess would be the traditional sense of the word. But it washes over me, it happens anyway, so I let it happen and move on. And hopefully, that shows through in my daily life.
Thanks for reading all this! I know it's quite a bit longer than the last few posts, but I wanted to share that story. And then the follow-up just sort of rambled on. As per usual. And as always, I'd love to discuss the matter with anyone who wants to, so comment on this, shoot me an email, whatever you want, really, if that interests you!