Pain builds connections

Last weekend I hauled firewood with others in our church. The day wasn’t overly challenging. We were going to a place north of Eagle butte about 200 miles from Rapid City. There were a few small areas of slippery roads in the early part of the drive, but most of the trip was on dry roads. We managed to pick up a good layer of dirt and salt and muck from the roads, so the trucks and trailers were really dirty when we handled them, but this is normal for firewood delivery. The trip home, on dry roads, went without problems. It was a good day and we had done good work to help others.

While we traveled, others gathered at our church for the annual observance of International Survivors of Suicide day. Had we not been delivering firewood, it is where I would have been. The speaker for the event at our church was a father who lost his son to suicide. We have bond because I have been present for part of his journey. I would have liked to spend some time with him, remembering and reflecting on how things have changed since the night when he received the news.

In a few days it will be the anniversary of the death of another young man, the son of a friend and colleague of ours. In many ways that loss still seems very fresh. His father has written eloquently about the loss, but his writings are, as you would expect, raw and full of emotion. I read them with tears in my eyes and I can only take the intensity of his writing in short doses. Still I am very grateful for his eloquence and his offering of his thoughts and ideas to the world.

Yesterday I attended a board meeting of the Front Porch Coalition, a local agency that seeks to bring the talk of suicide out into the open to decrease the stigma of death by suicide and to provide support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide. The meeting was feeling with a bit of disagreement among members of the board and it was briefly intense with a bit of emotion.

When we think of loss, we become emotional. When our emotions come to the surface it feels at times as if they will overwhelm us.

In the midst of all of that, however, I am aware of a deep connection that I share with those who have shared their loss and grief with me. While I would never wish such a tragedy upon anyone, there is something about pain that builds closeness. We share the space of pain and grief and loss and that shared space creates a connection. There are people with whom I would have never been friends who now greet me like family because we have shared the space of loss.

As I age, I have acquired a few more aches and pains. I carry with me the scars of losses. I have seen more grief than was the case earlier in my life. I notice a difference in how I approach the world because of my awareness that life isn’t just sunshine and good times. I am not afraid of pain or loss, but I do not relish them, either. In a strange way, my hands have become an interesting focus of my experience of aging and growing experience. I have been blessed with strong hands. I have a reputation in my family for being able to remove the lids from jars that others cannot. We have an ongoing joke about opening the peanut butter jar. My hands have also been very good at performing a wide range of tasks. Back in the days of high school and typing tests, I achieved good speed and accuracy. I used to say that I’ve never had a secretary who would type as fast as I. These days, of course, secretaries don’t really do typing. Their job responsibilities are focused on other tasks. Still, I can sit at a computer and enter data much more quickly than others who are on the staff of the church.

But my hands don’t work as well as they once did. I drop things. My fingers ache in the mornings. My thumbs, especially my left thumb, do more bracing and holding and less actual work. My fingers aren’t as flexible as one was he case. I’m not writing this to complain. I’m very lucky in the hands department. I know others whose hands are wracked with arthritis. I know a lot of people who have limited use of one or both of their hands.

Ironically, I have found that the mild pain in my hands is not my enemy. It is my companion. I wake and I stretch my fingers and rub my hands and I know that I am alive. I remember all of the experiences I have had. I think of all of the things my hands have been able to do. It is far better to feel pain than to feel nothing.

Pain is a normal part of life. Sharing the pain of others can be a blessing. Sure I was a bit uncomfortable as emotions were rubbed raw at yesterday’s meeting. Yes, I tear up when I read the words my friend has written. For sure, I squirm when I hear the news of another suicide. Sometimes I even say a few curse words at the news. But these emotions remind me that I am alive. They demonstrate that I care. How horrible it would be to see another in pain and have no reaction at all.

Suffering can be a bridge that connects us with others. Going through hardships gives us strength that we didn’t know we possessed. Sharing our pain is a way of reaching out beyond ourselves and towards others whose pain is as real and as powerful as ours. Knowing that we are not alone can make all the difference in the world.

So I thank God for my hands and even for a bit of pain. I’m learning that not every experience of pain needs to be fixed.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!