–by Justine Parkin (Aug 3rd, 2017)
I’ve been thinking recently a lot about pain. Despite experiencing bouts of pain on and off for many years, I’m only recently becoming comfortable voicing it more generously, acknowledging that chronic pain may be an experience that directs what I end up doing, creating and being in my life.
I haven’t wanted to accept my pain perhaps because it felt so final – to acknowledge it meant there may be certain experiences I have to forgo, or that if I am able to grasp these opportunities, I will lack the ability to be as joyful, spontaneous, dedicated or carefree as I would like to be.
At moments, my pain seems like quite a beautiful gift: my fate handed to me, asking me to mold my life to it, find ways to live so it is not so acute, preventing me from doing anything that might unnecessarily detract me from that purpose. But then there are moments when my mind and heart are so much broader than my body will allow and I become angry that pain forces me into such rigidity. […]
Pain is new in the sense that it is in every moment of its presence experienced in its newness, that is, in its absolute, total intensity. Pain’s newness, in other words, is not premised on its originality or uniqueness. Especially when pain has the kind grace to leave for even a short moment and there is the hope that it is finally clearing, well especially then, when it returns, is pain entirely new though it has been felt countless moments before.
I’d like to say that pain has taught me to just experience live to its fullest, to never let a day pass in despair. But my truth is just this: that when the pain pauses for some time, I almost forget it entirely. It quickly becomes a part of my past and I fail to know it anymore. I begin to live as I have before the pain began, excited to work, live, and love without having to spend a moment worrying about it. It’s strange that something we are so intimate with can so quickly become a stranger. I’ve heard similar things about the pain of birth, perhaps the most intense pain that a woman can experience in good health.
We often talk about how the body remembers, how trauma, emotions and experience weave themselves into our sinews and flesh, resting there and melding themselves into our living, sometimes creating illness or stress but also beauty or renewal. But while the body may be a suppository for memory, it is also adept at forgetting, especially when it comes to pain. Without the forgetting of pain, it would seem, we would not continue to birth new beings or decide to live ourselves. […]
Thinking about pain has thereby led me to thinking about women, about generations of female bodies and how pain passes through them. The herbalist Rosemary Gladstar expresses the connection between women’s bodies this way: “In essence, when your mother was a babe in your grandmother, you were a seed within her, an egg within her cells, listening to the sound of your grandmother’s heartbeat.” Such a simple thought with such profound possibilities.
I think on my grandmother, who endured a life of pain. She suffered from severe burns at young age and the pain of the various cancers that made it her way. She grew up on a small island off the coast of [the part of the Planet we call] New Zealand so it wasn’t until she was much older that she was able to receive skin grafts. Though she was only here for the first 12 years of my life, I don’t remember seeing any of this. It wasn’t until I saw her in the hospital at the end of her life, curled up in pain on a morphine drip that I saw and felt her pain. I wish I could have asked her earlier how she related to it.
I look at a picture of her as a young woman and see only her gentleness and beauty. Perhaps people look at me sometimes and see something similar. It’s hard to imagine such a person could have been in such pain. That’s the thing. Pain, of all kinds, is often invisible. I imagine the life she had at this moment and feel so close to her but can hardly relate. A legacy of colonialism, a mixing of race, religion, and culture. And yet, I somehow feel united to her in her experience of pain. It was certainly pain of a different kind, brought on by different illnesses. But because the names of these illnesses have failed to tell my story, I wonder if pain in itself can, thereby linking me to these past and future women.