Mar 20, 2011


Last night I finally gave up trying to sleep around 4:15am.  I was in complete agony all over my body.  And it wasn't just a dull ache everywhere.  It was a relentless random series of stabbing electrical pains, coupled with an intense hurting in my joints.  It was hard to find one that wasn't affected.  My neck and right arm was the worst.  But they were joined by throbbing in my left arm, my knees, my toes, my hips.  It was awful.  I couldn't find a position to lay that didn't set up a new set of painful zaps.  When I say electrical, it felt like someone was taking a hard narrow object that was hooked up to a power source.  It would suddenly jab into a spot on my body and push harder and harder in.  It was excruciating.  The natural response when someone comes up and jams something like that into you is to jerk away.  So, even though there was no physical implement of pain, my body kept jerking away.

After going to the bathroom, I went and sat in the recliner.  In recent weeks, sleep has become painful for me.  A large part of it is the fact that I have lost so much weight that my body does not enjoy sleeping in the position I have used for most of my life.  I don't have an enormous gut under me, so now my body contorts into strange painful positions.  I still haven't figured it all out.  Sometimes I will go sleep in the chair because it offers some relief.  Last night, it was a desperate move in response to a completely unexpected attack.  I would doze for 45 minute stretches and then pray when I couldn't sleep.  I didn't know what else to do - and I decided to make my unexpected wakey wake time useful.  (I wanted to write on the blog then, but I couldn't even lift the computer.)  After a couple of hours, I went back to my bed and hoped to sleep in there.  For no reason, I started shivering like crazy.  My teeth were clattering together so loud it woke Heather up.  She had no idea what was going on.  I just laid there and cried and she rubbed my hand.

We have tried to figure out what was going on.  I had done a lot of cleaning yesterday - scrubbing the bathroom floor, cleaning the shower, vacuuming the house.  (I tried to convince Heather that it was proof that cleaning was hazardous to my health.  She didn't buy it.)  That was probably a big part of it.  The exertion coupled with my Rheumatoid Arthritis - which has already been flaring due to stress.  For all we know, the "Supermoon" also got into the act.  Whatever the combination, it was the single worst RA attack I have ever had.  Normally I bounce back during the day.  The intensity of pain and the electrical jolts ended.  But my arms, knee, and neck are still very painful.  I've had to give up control more than I want to.  Heather had to drive us around.  She had to buckle my belt.  The kids have had to open bottles for me.  Now, twelve hours later, I still am slowly lumbering around the house.  Everything takes twice as long and hurts twice as much.

I'm sure that the two of you reading this are feeling great sympathy for me.  As they say, "you feel my pain."  That is one of the things about pain.  It is universal.  I would argue that it is one of the most universal of feelings, if not the most.  There are people out in the world who don't know how love feels.  But everyone knows what pain feels like.  I may not know exactly what you are going through.  But I can guarantee that I can recognize your pain.  The pain of loss.  The pain of loneliness, of betrayal, of grief.  There's the pain of a relationship ending and the pain of one that won't start.  We all know those feelings.  They are common across cultures and religions and gender and age.   Pain is very real and very recognizable.

In the midst of my physical pain last night, I was also feeling heartache.  It's a different kind of pain and I don't know which is worse.  With physical pain, you can put ice on it or take Advil.  With heartache, there isn't much that can be done . . except . . . wait.  I was hurting for the people suffering in Libya.  I want them to be free.  My heart ached for the people of Japan.  We are so consumed in the nuclear crisis there that we aren't thinking about the massive loss of life.  When all is said and done, there may be 20,000 people dead.  That is incomprehensible to me.  Entire families wiped out.  It kind of came and went with just a blip, but the news talked about when they discovered 1,000 bodies at one point.  They said the shock and grief was so bad at the sight that it just unhinged people.

I know I have written on some of these themes in my last few posts.  But it is a big part of what I am dealing with right now.  People all around us hurting.  The most we open ourselves up to them, the more we feel their pain, the more we hurt.  Eventually, it feels like we are going to overload.  It was like my body last night.  The pain was so all-encompassing and random and cruel that my body just starting shaking and trembling.  It couldn't handle it.  The same thing can happen with empathy for others.  We can find ourselves lost in their agony.

It is a hard road to walk.  It is easy to turn away and not care.  We joke around and forget about it.  After the Japan tragedy, you had people making crude twitter posts about it.  (Gilbert Gottfried was the most famous offender.)  I was equally horrified by the crassness of his joking.  But, I know that I have done some of that stuff before.  It may not have been as heartless or public.  I know, though, that I have been guilty of turning my back on a problem because it was "too hard" to stomach.

Last night I realized something.  In all of my agony, there didn't seem like a lot of hope.  I couldn't find a position that made the pain stop.  There wasn't a medicine or a treatment to end that scale of problem.  You know what the most comfort I got was?  When I climbed into bed and Heather reached over and just softly rubbed my hand.  It didn't stop the pain.  It didn't perform magic.  It didn't stop the tears.  But that brief genuine loving touch showed me that at least I wasn't alone in the agony.  It offered hope.

We can't fix Japan or Libya or New Zealand or the poverty and unemployment in our own country.  I can't generate enough money or buy enough houses to make things better.  And my little $10 text to the Red Cross seems so small in comparison to the scope of the agony.  But in that moment, our small gesture is like rubbing their hand.  It is showing them they aren't alone.

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