Looks kinda like the Orion nebula, but it's actually where my seatbelt was after Chucklenuts the Trucker decided to make an illegal left, slamming into some unsuspecting schmoe, who then slammed into me. Stuff like that tends to ruin your whole weekend. Home from the hospital now with aching back and hammering headache, I was reminded by a friend that I actually wrote a glib little column about the redeeming social value of pain back when I was doing my syndicated "Earth to Joni" column.
Earth to Joni April 20, 2003
That's Gotta Hurt: Searching for perspective in the House of Pain
I'm not a masochist, but I don't entirely hate pain. There's something mouth-wateringly alive about it. It's visceral, it's animal. It transcends the grinding norm, transporting us to an adrenaline-soaked plane of existence where we suddenly see with crystal clarity the true value of our temple bodies.
Oddly enough, when I shared this insight with Gary on the way to the minor emergency clinic, he was less than receptive. He'd somehow managed to trip over his own shoe (face it, honey, some people are not meant to walk backwards) and was certain his wrist was "utterly shattered."
"On a scale of one to five, how bad does it hurt?" asked the triage nurse. Gary's face reflected a struggle between the need to not sound wimpy and a desire for the big drugs. A manly response would be, "Ah, 'twarn't nuthin' but a two, little lady." But shrieking "Seven! Seven! Hit me in the head with a croquet mallet, for the love of mercy!" might better convey an immediate need for Darvon.
It's really not a fair question. Pain, emotional or physical, is relative.
For example, pain incurred without a good story is definitely worse than pain associated with a clever anecdote. Last year I fractured my instep, and because my foot was swollen up like a Buick, they immobilized it with an extra large boot, which meant I had to walk around like Ronald McDonald for five weeks. When anyone (and everyone) asked me what was up with the giant blue platypus attached to my ankle, I had to pile insult upon injury by telling the clunky truth. Somehow the "paratrooping into a nest of Qaida operatives" fracture gets a lot more props than the "stepped funny on the church playground" fracture.
I don't even try to match pain stories with my father. In the Pain Hall of Fame, Dad is firmly ensconced between Evel Knievel and that coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons. He's fallen from various tall places, been sat on by a horse, survived a triple bypass, and received high voltage electric shocks. He's crashed, careened, and catapulted off every mode of transportation imaginable, from a pop-up camper to my son's rollerblades. And he's always very jovial about his current injury, which makes it all the more tragic and brave.
"What, this? Oh, I hit a deer on my motorcycle. And what that deer was doing on my motorcycle I'll never know! Har-har!"
Fortunately for Mom, he still can't top the pain of giving birth. A man could be set upon by flaming wolverines and dragged off the Hoover Dam viewing platform--a woman still trumps him with childbirth. And mom did labor-times-six. Pain resulting from a selfless act is far more painful than pain resulting from general shenanigans. It's a fundamental truth: you will never experience the depth of agony your mother went through to bring you into this world. (And still, you forget to take out the garbage. But--as long as you're happy. That's all that matters.)
To Gary's chagrin, his wrist wasn't broken. It's badly sprained, which is so unfair. All the torment with none of the drama. He's getting plenty of mileage out of the torn ligaments, though. I feel his pain. Especially when I think of all the yard work I'm going to be doing.
"I feel your pain" has become something comedians say when they're sending up Bill Clinton, but we do literally hurt for each other. We cringe when we hear about the root canal, the stubbed toe, the star-spangled migraine. I defy you to refrain from crossing your legs when I tell you my friend Brad once jumped out a kitchen window and landed with one leg inside a barrel and the other leg out. Pain is something every human understands. That understanding provides a root system for compassion, and in our best moments, its fruit is mercy.
A world without it would be excruciating.