Living with Life’s Pain
- By: Candace McKibben
One of the wonderful volunteers at Big Bend Hospice gave to me a book that once belonged to her mother. It is a book that the volunteer appreciated so much that she bought another copy and gave it to her mom. Both of the daughter’s parents recently died within hours of each other, as people who have loved each other for a lifetime sometimes do. In cleaning out her parents’ home, she felt that the book she had first given to her mother should now be given to me. These are the sorts of gifts that are priceless. Every time I pick it up, I think of the love of this daughter for her mother and the volunteer’s love for me.
The first daily reading that I read from “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo, happened to be on July 17th, my youngest son’s birthday. It could not have been more resonate with my soul. Titled, “The Impulse to Love,” the reading begins, as each one begins, with a brief quote, this one attributable to Chris Lubbe, a South African who grew up under apartheid. Lubbe writes, “If somebody were to cut me into a thousand pieces, every piece of me would say that it loves.” He says that he was taught by his ancestors not to stay bitter or vengeful, for hate eats up the heart.
The line from the reading that resonated with me and has continued to stir my soul comes not from Lubbe, but from Nepo. In reflecting on Lubbe’s quote, he says that we all have the challenge of figuring out “how to feel the pain of living without denying it and without letting that pain define us.”
I believe that most of us experience the pain of living. It may be from childhood wounds. It may be from broken relationships. It may be from crushed dreams or grief or chronic illness. It may be self-imposed or other-inflicted. Learning how to live well with the pain we all experience involves a resolve to admit the pain but not so identify with it that we draw our identity from it. We have the choice as Nepo says, “to become the wound or to heal.”
I recently took my mother to the dermatologist to remove a squamous cell skin cancer from her leg. The nurse instructed us to dress the wound daily for three to four weeks or until healed. She explained how to apply the ointment and bandage and asked if we had any questions. I told her that I thought wounds healed better if exposed to the air. The young nurse said to this old wife, “That’s an old wives’ tale.” She explained that they wanted the wound to heal from the inside out, not from the outside in. She said that if the wound had air exposure it would form a scab but would not heal well underneath.
In my experience, I have seen life pains that have healed from the outside, forming scabs that keep the wound covered but do not allow the sort of deep interior healing that is needed. When some hurtful event happens that is related to the offense, the scab is torn off and the wound is as raw as ever.
As we were leaving the dermatologist’s examination room, I noticed a calligraphed sign that read: “There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.” I discovered it was written by Harry Crews, a novelist, playwright, and professor at the University of Florida, who knew more than his share of wounds in life. The quote helped me better understand the need for healing from the inside out for my mother’s skin cancer removal, but also for the personal wounds in my own soul.
Soul wounds require the same sort of daily attention a physical wound requires. It takes a measure of thoughtfulness, of prayer, of meditation, of forgiveness, of letting go. It involves embracing the strength of something greater than ourselves, of the indomitable power of love. I pray for you, as I pray for myself, wounds that heal well from the inside out by the grace and beauty of love, leaving beautiful scars.