According to the dictionary, pain is initially described as “physical suffering or distress” like that caused by an illness or injury. It has a cause you can quantify. Blame. You can point your finger to this or that and say that is causing your/his/her pain. An ankle is broken, a disease like cancer or angina is at the root of the problem. The pain.
My mother suffers physical distress daily. Riddled with arthritis in her back, she can barely get up and down from a chair, the couch, or her bed. The aberrant malformation of her one ankle makes it exceedingly painful to walk. And she has fallen several times over the past ten years, breaking her nose, her wrist, and suffering from multiple contusions. She was covered in so many bruises a couple of times, she was afraid to go anywhere lest one of her daughters be blamed for elder abuse.
Secondarily, pain is also a sensation felt. A generalization. Maybe in your back, your calf, your side. Unattached to an organ, save to say in a particular part of the body as yet nonspecifically identified. A pain in the area of your stomach, your back. Think of it in terms of muscles that are pinched, pulled, or strained. They cause you pain in a particular area that can’t always be pinpointed with precise accuracy. One side hurts and you think, perhaps gallbladder, in another spot the appendix comes to mind, or the heart.
Mom aches all over, and we don’t always know what causes it. Inactivity, a tendency to “compensate” by leaning one way or the other to relieve the pain of this or that, inadvertently engendering its development elsewhere. When I ask how she’s feeling, she’ll often say, “I hurt all over, but it could be worse. I can’t complain. What good would it do me anyway?”
None probably. But it’s best not to let these things fester.
Number three on the list is the category of pain that encompasses “mental or emotional suffering or torment.” People hurt us. Words hurt us. Actions hurt us, too. These are sometimes the worst because they do not remain localized. They punch us in the face, then permeate our flesh coloring every thought, every feeling, every happy moment in purples, grays, and blacks. Nothing can be truly appreciated for what it is or what it has to offer, dwarfed as it is by unrelenting anguish. Your mind turning against you, refusing to let go of the negativity, the pain. Making you miserable again at the very moment happiness might have been let in.
And here is where the word turns in on itself. Emotional suffering can elevate and intensify physical pain by its ability to invade your muscles and disturb the body’s cellular balance.
Mom’s physical problems and constraints pale in comparison to this kind of torment. Born into a mean existence where emotional suffering took the place of first violin in the orchestra of her life would have been more than enough pain for anyone to endure. And she has. But it has also multiplied exponentially, been compounded by other factors, other kinds of pain, and then steeping over the years in the fibers of her being, not only making her unhappy and depressed but physically compromised as well.
She tries to be happy but has misplaced the right sheet music.
I couldn’t see the pain she was in: she didn’t walk with a limp, she wasn’t stooped over, she didn’t hold onto walls or chairs, the tops of furniture to help get herself around. Her face didn’t usually wince, or pinch in on itself, and her eyes didn’t blink shut due to something unseen causing some kind of physical distress.
But pain had become part of her face just the same. The lines, the dark circles, the stress woven into muscles that never relaxed, the eyes that viewed the world in hard stares, a mouth whose corners were set in stone except for the occasional spasm in one corner of her mouth that twitched sometimes, when things were really bad.
The problem with pain is that it often turns in on itself, wearing a mask in an attempt to pass itself off as something else – Competition: who hurts the most, who has the most doctors, who takes the most pills? Laughter: if I make jokes and laugh at those that others tell, no one will see the pain, the hurt, the tears beneath my words. Pretense: appear to be something it isn’t and never was.
But what’s the point of that? We all have pain. Que Sera, Sera.
If we can claim it as our own, show it to others in good faith – that might be the first step in easing it. If we can set aside our laissez faire attitudes and meaningfully engage those we care about and those we love, that might be the first step in letting it go and freeing ourselves.
Que Sera Sera – Whatever Will Be, Will Be. But only if we make it so by closing in on ourselves.