Sharing the Pain


Adjacent to where you sit, right now, somebody is in pain.

But what an obvious observation; you already know that. You can see the pain everywhere: the dirty limping man with the cardboard sign at the freeway exit ramp, the line of sad faces waiting for soup outside the church, the ravages of poverty and ill health written all over tonight's evening-news-flash interview subjects. Sometimes it's hard to look straight at it for too long.

You are not without a heart, you tell yourself, just because you cannot bear to linger within the sphere of this pain's influence. Those around you might not realize just how porous you are, an absorbent sponge who soaks the suffering up, if not properly vigilant… and should you become supersaturated by this moisture, dense and weighed down, you'd find yourself unable to hold a single drop more. Inundated, overcome: which only causes more suffering. Is it any wonder you don the protective covering, to shield yourself enough so you might carry on as productive society-member?

You want to talk about problems?!? you brashly dare that clipboard-bearing do-gooder on the street-corner, the one who smacks of superiority-complex with that scornful smile he shoots at you when you shake your head, no, you do not have a few minutes to discuss human rights atrocities in China or how you can save the environment. Thank you, have a nice day, is a hollow demoralizing retort. You are one paycheck away from sleeping on your sister's couch, and the new management consultancy brought in to 'build team spirit' has started asking too many questions about what you do… which wouldn't be such a problem (since you hate your goddamn job) if your honey wasn't still out of work, on a continuing diagnosis of unspecific pain from a long-past injury and/or the addictive drugs they've been prescribing ever since ('… but they're prescription!') and/or the excruciating anxiety of what the fuck one could or should possibly do next. You smell something fishy from the corner conference-room, but you won't rock the boat. You need that insurance, to keep you both going. And sick-and-aging mom, all those miles from here, one debilitating hiccup away from 'assisted living'… where the hell would that money come from? This kid with the clipboard has no fucking clue.

You don't mean to turn this into a poor-me fest. Everyone's got problems, which is why you try not to dwell on yours. You live with these worries every day, and have learned to file them in an appropriate holding-chamber so as not to burden those around you. A couple glasses of wine and an evening of Travel Channel reruns help. A few snarky comments on that pompous politician's Facebook page provide some passing relief. A prolonged moment of reflection on your friend's fourth miscarriage in a row (a painful 'act of God' which could be punishable by law if you lived in the wrong state) offers clarifying perspective. She always manages to muster a positive attitude, though her past two years have been drenched in sorrow. She inspires you to look on the bright side, to suck it up and keep on going. You wish her well, as you honor her pain.

You know this pain—too well, you remind yourself. You have also lost someone. It has been so many years since the accident took your father, you should be over it by now. Shouldn't you? Probably no one, not even your honey, knows how not over it you are. It wouldn't have been so bad, you imagine, if you hadn't secretly wished for him to be gone. He was a drunk and an asshole, and you bore the brunt of his rantings and ravings. But you loved him anyway, and when the call came in and your mom collapsed on the floor in theatrics (for pain can't be real without the performance), you fell down beside her, bathing together in puddles of tears. Had your nasty wish been granted? Were you crying out of guilt instead of grief? Careful what you put out there, you taught yourself.

It's hard to cry about it all now, after all these years of listening to your mom and sister rewrite history and recast your old dead dad as some saintly superhero… as if he hadn't said all those rotten things and lost his temper one too many times in ugly outbursts you still, to this day, wouldn't dare describe aloud in any detail. Who would believe you, or care, now that this dead man's been sanctified? Where would you even begin in trying to remedy your family's self-shielding, deceitful denial? You must sit on the anger… though, you have to confess, it does leak out when your superficial sister complains about stupid shit like the stain on her new $10,000 carpet or tries to shame you into visiting mom more often. Easy for her to say: Her husband pays all the bills, while she sits around gossiping about the other wives in the neighborhood.

But people like her are everywhere these days, you groan… self-obsessed, unaware of their privilege, oblivious to how hard the rest of you are working and the pain you live with every day. You dealt with another moron like that just last week: the asshole next door, with his gas-guzzling douchebag-mobile and his blaring white-man-soul crap music, who expected you to pay hundreds of dollars (that you do not have! by the way) to replace a fucking fence that looks just fine to you. It's a little worn around the edges, sure, but spending money on that is just not something you can afford right now. What does he care, that self-involved prick with his perfect little life? You can barely make ends meet.

You hadn't intended to start screaming at him when he walked over from next door, casually inquiring as to whether you'd had a chance to check out the fence-repair estimates he'd dropped by earlier. You admit he caught you at a bad moment. You'd just gotten off the phone with your mom. Your honey had just thrown a fit because you didn't stop at the pharmacy on the way home. You badly wanted to be left alone for a few quiet minutes. And here comes this prick wanting to talk about a fence? You just had to let him have it with, How selfish are you? You, with your condescending attitude, who would never even consider whether I might not have money like you do to buy whatever fancy car I want or a $10,000 rug or a fucking fence I don't give a rat's ass about… and do you ever seem to care about how your loud fucking music (and you listen to really bad fucking music!) pounds through the walls into OUR home, how I can never get a moment of peace, while you're flaunting how goddamn perfect and amazing your life is, well, good for you, it seems like you have everything going for you, which makes you very lucky, so leave ME the fuck alone and I'll deal with the fence when I AM GOOD AND READY, asshole

and his eyes water up, right in front of you, this grown man now breaking into full-body sobs to the point where he cannot even speak, and you are stopped dead-short in your fit. You are the asshole, it becomes apparent, as he apologizes to you for his outburst (even though you're the one who burst out, and who owes him an apology) then stumbles over awkward backtrack offers to 'just forget it', he'll pay for the whole thing, no problem. You are moved to silence, in recognition of his pain. You know he isn't sobbing because of your ridiculous ranting and raving. There's more underneath, there's always more you don't see. You reach over and gently touch his shoulder. He wipes his runny nose with the back of his hand, and states, 'My wife is leaving me. She's met someone else. I have to sell the house so I can give her half. That's why I need the fenced fixed.' You quietly nod.

You share his pain. This reminder of his humanity has penetrated through your protective covering, touching your own pain which you'd attempted to pack away, unwrapping it back into consciousness. You thank him for his honesty, an opportunity for connection, the best pain-relief medication there is. Had he not opened up, you would've gone on inflicting more pain ('…pass it along!') and we've already got plenty.

I wrote this piece before Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern US with its brute force. The 'silver lining' in such devastating happenings is how they draw our attention to the shared experience of pain—and, as a result, usually bring out the most generous, warm-hearted behaviors in us. If only we could treat each other every day as we do in the aftermath of a disaster…

Written in honor of Saturn in Scorpio trine Neptune in Pisces: Honestly and opening confronting our own shit not only stops the unconscious spread of further pain, but helps us alleviate the pain that already exists.