In Pain We Trust
I did something for the first time recently — I joined a support group. Two, in fact, on Facebook, run by people suffering from something called trigeminal neuralgia.
TN is a little-known condition that delivers hydrogen bomb size pain to those it afflicts; a pain so difficult to describe I often resort to admitting, "I wouldn't wish it on Hitler," and mostly mean it.
The "suicide pain," as it's also known, involves the trigeminal nerve in one or more of three branches that cross the upper, middle, and lower parts of the face, on each side. For better and worse it is impervious to opioids, and virtually every convention of pain solution. The culprit appears to be a blood vessel, putting pressure on the nerve at its root. Why is unclear. As a neurologist explained to me, "It could be the result of damage caused by an early virus, or maybe head trauma, but the truth is, we just don't know." In any event, the point here is not etiology, but this: visceral pain of such magnitude is a great equalizer, underscoring the truth that we’re all created equal. It is, to put it mildly, a lesson learned the hard way.
Since joining these groups, I've participated regularly, if not frequently, in the long daily threads comprised often of members responding to another who is feeling unable to go on. These confessions are also pleas, and the anguish in them is humbling.
What's been most remarkable to witness is the generosity, compassion, and kindness on the part of folks who "get it," and know all too well the toll such pain can take. They are available, patient, and wholly non-judgmental. They come from every race, age, economic class, gender, preference, and I think it's safe to assume, political persuasion. In contemporary parlance, they are an identity group — genuine victims, yet with a single, truly inclusive, brief: to ease each others' suffering.
Reflecting on this, I was reminded of that sea change in the behaviour of my fellow New Yorkers right after 9/11. On the subways especially, an almost stunning stillness prevailed. Born of pain and uneasiness, the shock of that event scattered the brute pettiness, and joined us in an unspoken solidarity of compassion. How very sad that we put that solidarity behind us, and are now on the verge of turning pettiness into something sinister. Doing so suggests that only pain can stir us to a more humane way of being.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, human beings are understood to be created in the image and likeness of the Creator. With Christianity comes a further focus — namely, that God became human so that humans themselves might become God. Polls tell us that fewer and fewer subscribe to this view. The inflamed behaviour of recent headlines would seem to bear that out.
Believers, as do others, differ in assessing the social/political issues of the day, as well as how best to address them. We cannot, however, differ on the essential reality of who we are vis-a-vis our Creator, and neighbor, or that it's this which needs to temper our thought, speech, and every political action.
Suffering can be purgative and nurturing at the same time; a soil enriched by tears, from which the twin virtues of humility and gratitude may come to flower. It will find us all eventually, we need not, should not, seek it.
Meanwhile, most are familiar with the notion that people make important changes for the better either through inspiration or desperation. "In God we trust" is one way of expressing the former. If that doesn't move us, we may be forced to acknowledge that, it's actually, "In Pain We Trust."