Manage Suffering Reflection
My Road Goes Ever On
We’re on the Same Island
In this Manage Suffering Reflection, admitting to unique, personal suffering is the first step toward healing. Realizing that everyone suffers is the second.
Though I do believe that John Donne was right, “No man is an island,” since we are all connected to the God who made us, I must also toss in a clarification: suffering can separate us in ways that islands don‘t dare to dream.
For the past several months, I’ve dealt with neck and shoulder pain to the point where I’ve decided that a good night’s rest is a charming illusion. It’s hard to explain the crucifix of nightmarish exhaustion mixed with throbbing aches. Each night, I just have to survive on my own till I can join humanity’s daily-do at the break of dawn.
Because I’m a mom, I learned long ago that it is possible to feel another person’s pain. If my kids slipped on the rocks, I would cringe on impact and endure their moment of hurting shock. Though my pain wore off while theirs had to heal naturally, still, I felt for them. Literally.
But that’s not how things usually go in this world. More often than not, I turn away from pain and suffering. I hate the sight of it because I know darn well that if I think about it, if I imagine one of my children in that hurting place, I will get hurt, share a loss, suffer embarrassment, cringe in fear, wince in agony. So, not being a glutton for punishment, I shy away.
Yesterday, when I spoke with a nurse about arranging an MRI scan, she mentioned that she knew I was in discomfort. Discomfort is one way to put it. Not particularly accurate, but as a nurse, she can hardly suffer the blows of misfortune with every patient she encounters. If she did, she’d never get her job done. The MRI scheduler jokingly said, “Hope you aren’t claustrophobic.” Deflecting fear with humor helps her do her job, though I didn’t laugh.
So I get it. Sharing each other’s pain isn’t always a good idea. We’ve got to survive and do our jobs. But I have to wonder if we can’t find a middle ground, a sane space between taking on burdens that aren’t ours and insisting, “I feel your pain” when, in fact, we really don’t, and the protection of an island existence that barely keeps us human.
The internet and online media tend to hyper-inflate isolationist islands in our social seas. A casual reviewer drops a few cruel lines, thinking nothing of it but real pain ripples to far shores. The comment section becomes battlegrounds where no blood is actually drawn, but unseen wounds reach deep.
A year ago or so, someone posted a video about a young man in an interview who failed hard. Apparently, lots of people shared the post as slapstick humor. I nearly cried. The guy valiantly struggled through the interview, stammering when he realized he was the cause of the sarcastic laughter behind him. His ability to rise to the challenge plummeted. He stood on an island of misery surrounded by a mocking crowd.
When I served in Peace Corps, I once watched in horror as a teacher called a child who had a severely enlarged head (undoubtedly due to some physical illness) to the front of the class to teach the concept of “gigantic.” I felt the little boy’s embarrassment. I also felt the teacher’s anxiety when I (as a teacher trainer) tried to explain after class that her method wasn’t the proper way to teach that concept (or any concept really). She didn’t think she had hurt the boy, but she was terrified of losing her job. Two islands of pain right there in the same room
The other day, I read a post by someone I know to have suffered greatly. He didn’t share his singular grief; rather his sarcasm insulted many.
Pain comes in so many forms and levels; we can’t feel it all. It would kill us if we did. For me, the key is not feeling everything; it’s being able to feel something. I don’t like pain. But suffering—my own and others’— informs me in a way nothing else can.
Ironically, though suffering may force us to live an island experience— we’re all on the same island.
It helps to remember that.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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