On Rain and Pain: Impressions

Rain Poems
This week in and around South-of-the-River, we have rain. And so I am listening to the fall of the rain, its music, and thinking of the rain poems I know, like

794 by Emily Dickinson

"A Drop fell on the Apple Tree -
Another - on the Roof -
A Half a Dozen kissed the Eaves -
And made the Gables laugh -"
(whole poem here)


The Antiphon by Denise Levertov

"And then once more
all is eloquent - rain,"
(remainder of poem here if you scroll down)


April Rain Song by Langston Hughes

"Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby."
(whole poem here)

and Part I of

Gifts of Rain by Seamus Heaney

"Cloudburst and steady downpour now
for days
              Still mammal,
straw-footed on the mud,
he begins to sense the weather
by his skin.

A nimble snout of flood
licks over stepping stones
and goes uprooting.
                        He fords
his life by sounding.
(whole poem here; sorry I can't find it anywhere online)

Rain, A Love Story, or, It's Complicated
I have always loved a good rainy day (or week, as the case is this week). Perhaps it is my Scottish and Irish blood that makes me feel at home in the rain. Plus, rain is reading weather. And rain sounds beautiful - like, what? Like hushed applause. Like silver, falling.

Since my arthritis set in, Rain and I have had more of an uneasy relationship. I still love it for all the things it is: water-ful and musical and good for cocooning. But since my arthritis set in, Rain (or any damp weather) and Pain have gone hand in hand. So I've been thinking about pain this week.

It is always a little scary to start telling people about pain. Oh, the fear of being The Complainer. The fear of myopia, of having lost perspective. The fear of coming off as if other people's suffering (physical or otherwise) is not just as bad or worse.

Here, I shove my fears aside. There are a few things I want to say about pain.

Pain, the Word
I've done a little research on pain. Just a very little, focused on what I care about: the word itself, where it came from, and what it really means.

pain n. 1. a strongly unpleasant bodily sensation such as is caused by illness or injury 2. mental suffering or distress (Oxford English Dictionary)

Since I began living with pain on a daily basis, I have often been puzzled about why there is just one word in English for pain. We use same the word to define physical discomfort and emotional suffering. Personally, I feel physical pain deserves its own damn word, but I guess I'm not in charge of the dictionary.

pain Borrowed from Old Friench peine from Latin poena punishment, penalty, from Greek poine punishment (Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology)

The word pain comes from the words for punishment and penalty. Punishment and penalty are what happen to you when you do something wrong, illegal, or in violation of the social contract. It comes from words for things that are brought upon oneself. I don't necessarily think this connotation has held, but there's something in me that wants to grumble at the provenance of this word.

A Proposal
I think we need a new word. One for physical pain. One that tells of the way bones can drink in the weather and hold it in their very centers. A heavy-sounding word that carries a sense of weight; one that tells of the burden of simple things like walking or lifting a cup to one's mouth for a drink. One that says tire, tire, tire and throb, throb, throb, and one that has nothing to do with penalty or punishment, but instead speaks of burden, ache, ever-present physical force.

Lo These Many Years
My pain is daily pain. Believe me, I am keeping track of how long I have lived with daily pain. It will be nine years in September. Some days are worse than others. Some years are worse than others. Many days the pain feels manageable. When the damp weather comes, and especially when it stays, the pain intensifies and it doesn't feel manageable anymore.

Truth: Last night I cried myself to sleep. I am tired of hurting.

Note To Self
Never move to the Pacific Northwest.
Consider, perhaps, Northern California.

Getting Used to It
Once I thought there would come a day when I would wake up pain-free. I haven't exactly given up on that idea, but I have stopped thinking about it and waiting for it. If it happens, it happens. If not, not.

Once I told my mom, "Don't worry about me, Mom. I'm used to being in pain."
And she said, "I don't want you to get used to it."
I love her for saying that.

A Prayer
Please let the Resurrection of the Body be symbolic.

Sometimes when the pain is bad, I try hard to name the gifts of pain, to make it seem redemptive. Things like:

--I am closer to the earth. I sense the weather inside my skin. I can tell you when the front moves in, what time the rain or snow started. I can tell you before I get out of bed in the morning if it has stopped yet.
--I learned to slow down, quite literally. I have sometimes enjoyed a slower pace of life.
--I have an excuse for wearing really comfortable (but not very fashionable) clothes -- ones with few fasteners.
--Ditto for shoes. I live in my Danskos 'til summer. Then I live in my Birkenstocks (BTW, I know of someone who calls Birkenstocks "Birth Control" and I think we can all see why).
--I learned to ask for help. I have learned to accept help. From friends and strangers alike.
--My kids have learned to do things for themselves, and for me, that they might not otherwise have learned by now.
--I hope my kids have also learned compassion and understanding for others' struggles, seen and unseen.
--I have a very good excuse for limiting (severely) my volunteer hours at school.
--I get to take lots of hot baths.
--I am lucky to live in a time when there are medications and other remedies to ease chronic pain.
--By the time I am an old woman, I will have had lots of practice being an old woman.

But here's the truth: I haven't found that thought or idea or experience that makes pain, especially pain that is with me every day, seem redemptive. Yes, I have learned a lot from having a chronic illness. Yes, my life is probably better for the experience of chronic illness, for the friendships I have gained, and even those I have shed, because of the way illness has coursed through my life; and for the gratitude that seems to flow naturally out of hardship. But my life is harder, too (I have just recently been able to admit this to myself, so I am practicing by saying it and writing it: My life is harder than it would be otherwise because of my illness). So, gifts of illness in general? Yes. Gifts of bodily pain that lasts and lasts? Not so much.

Pain Poem
I have some notes scribbled down on pain, notes for a poem. The line that keeps coming to me is

pain is the bones chanting
do not forget us, we are very near

I have spent a lot of time wondering if this line is a reassurance or a threat.

Redemption, Again
I guess that little line might have just a speck of redemption in it. If nothing else, my daily pain has kept me close to my body, my physical self. It has kept me from being too much in my mind or in my feelings, as I think I was prone to be during the years when I took a pain-free, well-functioning body for granted. It makes me think that while we can't be defined wholly by our physical selves, still there is something about the physical vessel which our soul/self walks around in.

I don't know what that something is, besides being something more to learn.


Coolclan said...

Did not mind your complaining one bit. You offer it to us as a gift. Two suggestions: I like the German "Schmerz." (2) And, resurrection of the body will somehow involve the scars, but not the schmerz.

Jill Spencer said...

And then there is a more spiritually intended word- long-suffering. I don't know the etiology of the word but it reminds me of how I think I might describe your pain, condition, experience of life. Don't get used to the pain, it will make you forget what is normal and make you less likely to ask for help, or to be able to describe what you are feeling to those who need to know. M.

Molly said...

Thank you, Coolclan. "Schmerz." I love it. It sounds like I feel. And now I can think of the resurrection of the body without dread.

And thank you, Mom. As always.