Where the pain is.

She slid one powerful hand across the top of my shoulder, and I gasped as her gifted fingers crackled, hard, against a very stubborn and painful knot. I flinched, and then realized even though she was working on my right shoulder, I could feel the reverberation of pain running across to my left shoulder and down my left arm.

“What is that?!?” I asked, feeling my arm twist against the unexpected and uncomfortable sensation, “It’s on the other side!”

And quietly, because she’s perfect at quiet and calm, she said, “They teach us in school this very thing, that where the pain is, is not where the pain is.”

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

Fortunately our session had just begun and so my astonished brain had a good 45 more minutes to unpack that little gem of a sentence.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

I once worked, just for a few months, with a man who’d recently retired from the Air Force after some twenty years of service. To say he had “seen alot,” is putting it mildly, especially as his service had included long tours in the Middle East.

We shared an office, and one morning, when he came in, I could tell something was…off. I didn’t know him well, and so at first I just stayed in my work. But then I realized he was just sitting there, staring into space, not at all his normal get-to-it, high energy MO.

“Hey…are you okay?” I finally asked, softly.

“My dog died,” he said, “had to bury her last night.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, that’s so hard,” I immediately responded, having known more than once the pain of losing a furry friend.

In a matter of seconds, he crumbled. Tears upon tears, wracking his entire frame. Sensing that to move or speak would simply make everything worse, I just sat, as still and quiet as I could until, after a while, his sobs slowed and his breathing began to return to some semblance of normal.

And then into the space between us he spoke, “Ridiculous. I can stand over the bodies of six dead airmen and not shed a tear, and I lose it over a damn dog.”

I’m not even sure he remembered I was there as he said those words. And as I certainly had no adequate response, I simply held his gaze when he finally looked up at me, nodded my head every so slightly in affirmation or empathy or something, I don’t really know…and then we both returned to our work.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

I’ve written here before about asking one another, “Where does it hurt?” It’s a valuable question, and one that would, I think, help reclaim one another’s humanity in a world hellbent on the game of dehumanization.

My fear is that we don’t really know where it hurts. And so it manifests in ways and places that simply exacerbate our pain instead of finding a path to healing.

My childhood best friend, who I talk with via text on almost a daily basis, is a speech therapist. She says that so often vocal injuries or challenges are a result of our having forced our bodies to sing or speak in a way that the body was not designed to do–as a result, nodules (Where are my Pitch Perfect fans? Nodules!!) or other injuries develop.

At the core of who I am is a deep belief that we were created in love, for love — breathed into being by One who calls us into real relationship with one another and with that One. Our wellbeing hinges on our connectedness, and our survival as communities and as species is only possible when we seek that survival together.

Shew. Do we ever screw this up. I mean, let me count the ways, right?

As a result, our very insistence on working against God’s intent for us–because somehow we find selfishness secure and disconnected rewarding (?!?!?)–means that pain riots in all sorts of places, in ways we cannot expect and often do not recognize. We’re so blind to the consequences of “Me First,” we can’t even see how hurt and alone and isolated we’ve made ourselves. It hurts too much to face it full on, so we hide behind the very things that lead to our pain in the first place. We are, in this particular country, awash in a lack of empathy, and I suspect that at least in part, this stems from our own futile efforts to disguise where our own pain is.

Hide the pain, try to force yourself to live in a way that goes against the very essence of who we were made to be, and that pain, will, eventually, make itself known another way–generally at someone else’s expense.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

George Orwell once wrote, “I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with this meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul…”

I am convinced that, as a whole, we are, most of the time, walking around gobbling our jam without even realizing we’re broken. Until suddenly we’re sobbing with ragged breath over a dead dog–for the pet itself, sure, but also for the battle comrades we lost, and could not find a way to grieve.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

We have to be brave enough to face it, y’all. To do the work to address where we really, truly hurt. It is, I am convinced, the only way forward.

One thought on “Where the pain is.

  1. What can I say? You touched me again at the very core of my soul. Thank you so much for your words. Once again you put into words what I am feeling.
    God bless you.


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