Everyone of us has known pain.
Sometimes it sneaks in when we aren’t paying attention, others it knocks at our front door. Sometimes pain is quick and sharp, and others it’s deep and lingering. Pain seems to speak in codes that ask to be deciphered, and in languages that—while familiar to us—can also be very obscure. Nevertheless, pain seems to have its own mysterious, secret agenda for us.
In my own life, I’ve noticed that pain comes in all varieties of shapes and sizes, just like presents, though not necessarily the kind I enjoy unwrapping!
And yet, I can’t think of anything else in my life that has challenged me to move toward my own betterment as much as pain has. But not without a lot of careful unwrapping of packages I initially wanted to mark “return to sender”.
In this poem I begin to unwrap those packages and give you a little peek into my ever-evolving relationship with pain, and the way it’s always challenging me to find value in the most unlikely experiences.
For pain is like my teacher, and sometimes, if I trust it enough, it can even connect me with all those things beautiful and sacred.
The Pain of Love.
It enters me like a phantom
The injection of pure pain
On mournful mornings
When I hear my heart in the lonesome hoots of a barn owl
Winding in sluggish turns through winter fog
Long before the sun rises.
Not mere discomfort,
Like the prolonged silence in elevators,
The flattening, heat-infected summers
Blushes that follow compliments
That tight pair of shoes bound for goodwill,
But instead, it’s that raw, squeeze-you-‘till-you-break pain:
You know it as well as I do.
And it’s not the pretty pain either
That dissipates with swift rewards
After your ears are pierced, or your blood is drawn,
Or fire stings through your wet oven-mitt,
Pumpkin spice swirling into cozy corners.
No, it’s not that pretty pain at all,
The kind that fizzles out when you inhale, slowly,
That latches on your nipples in a mischievous toddler’s bite
Or rips through your flesh in birthing ten-pound babies.
Swelling your bosom with an “I can do this” breath,
No, it’s pain that does you instead!
It’s the kind of pain that makes me wonder
If I exist at all under its weight
Inside the rubble of its earthquakes
Tucked into the deep fault lines that
Whither my foundations
Blowing in the dust of prickly perspectives
I once held dear:
Suddenly, I’m only powder whipped by wind.
And I want to trace it out: this pain
Perhaps to a dusty, half-baked trauma
Or baggage I was meant to leave on the carousel
Stuffed with old regrets or infected wounds
Oozing with bits of me I have yet to forgive,
Dreams I have yet to let go of.
Yet this pain flows through me in elusive ways
Wiggling out of my tight definitions
With a suspicious, mischievous velocity
That leaves my sails of self tattered, tattered,
So that I’m only a rag ravaged by the wind
Against its oceanic might.
Do you know this pain?
That truth-chisel that sculpts your heart
Chip, chip, chipping away at all the parts of you
That are made of fear instead of love?
That’s when I begin to suspect,
As this stubborn pain in my chest swells
like volcanic soup burning in my soul
That it must be a tool in divine hands,
Masquerading as the undesirable
In response to every time my heart ever longed,
To know pure love, enduring love,
Rich, delicious sacred-kind-of-love
The kind that apparently needs to break me first,
And shake me first,
From all my winter slumbers
That swirl me mercilessly
into the lonely hoots of the barn owl
Long before the sun rises.