My Friend Pain
My husband and I recently returned from our ten-year anniversary trip. We eschewed every possibility that included the words “excursion” or “leave the resort” and narrowed our choices to “beach or pool today?” and “dinner at 7:30 or 8:30?” I read fourteen books, angled my lounge chair for the best shot at an even tan, and attempted to master the elevator-mirror-couples-selfie.
That Thursday evening, we reunited with our sons and returned home. Friday, we spent the day together as a family. Saturday, I wrote. Sunday, I woke up feeling bad. And now, on a Friday thirteen days later, my head hurts more than it did at first and the list of symptoms grows.
I want to be a person who thinks of the past few week’s happenings as merely time marching forward, good and bad overlapping, sickness and health warring for dominance in a fallen world. My past week’s indulgent happiness reflects the tearless state of the beginning the same way that my groaning body echoes the first crunch of the forbidden fruit.
Yet life for so long has felt this way, like the briefest glimpses of bliss must be punished by pain.
Young marriage met with cancer.
Pregnancy met with “unnamed neurogenetic disorder.”
Vacation met with an unbeatable migraine.
Scripture tells me that Jesus came to offer abundant life. I don’t know how to reconcile that with the fact that pain seems to lurk, personified, waiting for me around every corner.
My mother miscarried my twin, and I imagine Pain, instead, as the sister born full-term with me.
Throughout childhood and even now, I wondered what my twin would have been like. I’ve nearly always imagined him as a boy, different from me in biology and even personality but a kindred spirit. My sisters did not have to plow for common ground on which to play together. And I often felt like I was hacking through fields with a machete in pursuit of them, only to realize they’d raced ahead to the next patch of cleared land. I wondered if my twin and I would have known the kindredness my heart longed for.
But instead I have a sister named Pain. She and I share myriad personality traits—sarcasm, cynicism, a depressive nature—in that way of similarity that breeds profound frustration. We share in common everything I wish I could change about myself, and nothing of the person I hope to become.
Pain and I dress in similar styles—a shared love for sleeveless tops, skinny jeans, and sandals. But while I choose sea- and sky-tones, she opts for cloudy gray. As I look in the mirror and fasten a gold necklace from my grandfather around my neck, she rolls her eyes at my sentimentality and applies another coat of jet black mascara.
When I indulge in a gift-card-provided manicure, she scoffs at a nearby table, picking blood red polish off of nails she painted herself. She glares at me with eyes that ask, “Don’t you know this moment of reprieve won’t last? Why have it at all? Haven’t we been together long enough for you to just give up?”
I watch for her regularly, wondering what she’s here to steal or spoil next, what meanness she’s dreaming up to ruin my just-had pleasure.
Friends tell me regularly not to let Pain have my joy. She’s not my sister alone, they try to help me believe. Her effects certainly are, but God did not create her and give her a special mission with my name on it. I want to believe them. But then I find myself believing that eliminating Pain as a character in the plot of my life would be akin to sororicide.
In my imagination, Pain waits and watches for me. I wonder if I should try to kill her and realize I don’t want to because I believe she’s part of me and I won’t know myself without her. In reality, the only True Brother I’ve ever had waits and watches for me, despite the fact that I killed him with my sin.
I fancy a shadowy caricature of myself, gothically clad, lingering nearby as she plots to punish me for happiness. Yet the one who took on flesh to be like me stands nearby with arms outstretched, reminding me of punishment already borne and of life that can hold both pain and peace at once.
It’s a sibling rivalry, really, in the saddest and most hopeful sense of the phrase. A sister who lives to destroy my peace and a Brother who longs to give it if I’ll only ask. Pain will not leave me, she will not leave any of us this side of eternity. She may haunt my steps from day to day, but I know that my Brother waits with open arms at home.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me;
see, on the portal he’s waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary come home.