When you’re a kid, pain is generally something that is fixed with a band-aid (extra points for groovy cartoon figures!) or Mommy’s kiss. When you’re in that awkward adolescence, it’s verification that the struggle is real. As a young adult, pain feels like proof that you are doing something (or everything) wrong.
But pain can also be an unlikely compass to lead you down a different path. One you were never brave enough to try before. It can feel impossible, unfair, and unbeatable. Like your life will never be the same again. Brave isn’t an option, you just have to endlessly go through the motions. Then you reach the other side, and realize that it wasn’t about being brave. Or getting back to where you were.
And one day you can look back and realize that the whole experience wasn’t random at all.
The episode that left my third daughter in premature, life-threatening illness (all 4lbs, 5oz of her,) for 3 months is still crystal clear in my mind. Ironic because at the time it was all a haze. Of constant activity or hold-the-breath, heart-stopping waiting/praying. Or crying. Or fighting. Or putting on the fakest smile of my life for my toddlers and family. The moments I was able to hold my tiny baby with all of her cords attached, so frail with the largest blue eyes gazing expectantly at me, I maybe felt a glimmer of not-sadness. When I held my squirmy toddlers and squeezed them far harder than they would have liked before they scampered off, I felt it also. But it wasn’t complete. Pain was really the only reality of my world. Everything else was just existing, getting through the day with the needs of my little ones between crying/fighting/praying/exhaustion.
There is really no way to describe the pure joy that it was to have my babies all together and home. That first night was one of the happiest of my whole life. The rest of that first year, as her frailty continued through various illnesses, doctor visits, surgery, hospital stays… somehow I knew how to be strong for those. Because none of it compared to that first 3 months. Similarly, I was able to start running which I had always wanted to do. Running hurts, when you are overweight and overwrought with responsibility. But I had hurt more once. And the pain that came with running was different. It hurt, but it also clarified who I was and what I truly wanted to be. The pain of running strengthened me because I now knew how to see it as it was.
A lovely nurse once told me that I would be able to look back on the whole episode of my daughter’s hospital stay as just that. An episode. A chapter of our life. I was incredulous. How could so much pain, heartache, and a completely upended life be summed up in an episode?
She was so right. It took years, many miles of pavement, many more heartaches and breathless moments of pain and prayer and just letting go. But I get it now.
There is strength to be found in pain. We are all stronger than our pain. If we are able to take a breath and look at it in a different way, it can guide us to exactly where we belong.