Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pain Past is Half Remembered

I think you've all been in the same situation:

You eat something incredibly tasty, like some spicy Chipotle.  But then you are writhing in pain because of the number that those spices are doing on your insides.  And in that moment, you swear to yourself that you will never eat that horrid meal again.

But then time goes by and someone suggests some Chipotle.  And your mouth begins to water and you think to yourself, "I got a stomach ache last time, but it wasn't that bad.  Why not?"  And so you scarf down the burning Mexican meats and you are once again cursing yourself for making such a terrible mistake as you writhe in pain.

I don't think I'm all that strange in this way.  I think that we learn from pain, but once the pain has gone away, we don't remember it as much.  To be sure, there are some trauma's that are difficult to get past.  But for the most part, as time goes by, the intensity and immediacy of the agony is dulled and blunted.  For the most part, I think this is a good thing.  If we couldn't help but re-experience our past pain whenever we thought of it, it would cripple us whenever we had an unpleasant memory.

But this does lead to a problem.  Pain has a purpose.  It is the way the body (or the mind) tells us that something is wrong.  A few weeks ago I was in the ER barely able to think straight because of the pain (but keep in mind my pain threshold is Lilliputian.  I get a paper cut, I start crying).  When they did an ultrasound, they found what I can only imagine was a golf ball sized stone in the neck of my gall bladder.  If it was not surgically fixed, the stone could move causing pancreatitus, liver damage, etc.  The pain was letting me know that a serious, possibly life-threatening problem could develop.

Pain also hits you from poor decisions.  If you eat too much, you feel awful.  Drink too much, you puke all night.  Carelessly handle your phone, it falls and breaks.  Don't study for school, you get an F.  Miss-spend your money, fall into debt.

In all of these cases, the pain is the result of doing something that is bad for you.  When the pain hits, we receive instance epiphanies regarding the foolishness of our choices.  And our wills firmly set themselves against ever doing it again.

But then the pain goes away.

And then we forget.

In high school I read Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment."  Having just read the unrelentingly boring The Scarlet Letter, I was not looking forward to this other offering.  In essence, Dr. Heidegger gathers a small group of old people who have misspent their youth, but now in the suffering of their old age, they realize the foolishness of their juvenile vices.  But Dr. Heidegger has found the literal fountain of youth and shares some of the waters with these old people.  They youthen, but they immediately return to all of their old bad habits of vanity and violence.

I remember reading this and think that it was too pessimistic regarding human nature.  As I've gotten older, I think Hawthorne was onto something.  I look behind my and see my life littered with moments of trial followed by broken resolutions of improvement.

Right before I had emergency surgery two weeks ago, I went to a local church for confession.  I truly and sincerly imagined my life if I came out of the surgery and how I would give up my stupid and pointless vices.  And now here I am and while I think I've made some small improvements, I've fallen back into so many  time-wasting routines (although I am on level 79 of Candy Crush).

I think that's one of the reasons God lets me suffer.  If I was a better person, I don't think I would need as much suffering.  But I clearly do.  When troubles come, I fall to my knees and my concentration is ucannily focused.  When the sorrows clear up and day dawns, so does my resolve.  And so God sends me more sorrows to bring me back.

So I pray every day that I can finally learn the lesson God is trying to teach me.  If I can use small suffering as a stepping stone and not a stumbling block, then maybe I can rise above the vale of tears.

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking a lot about pain and suffering and the purposes of it as well. For me, it was the realization that childbirth involves a great deal of suffering, but brings about something good and wonderful (pain with a purpose). And if women didn't forget that pain, each family would probably only ever have one child. So pain is not just for warning us that we are doing something wrong, but can also lead to a good result.