Monday, May 17, 2010

the power of pain

the power of pain
and the power of perspective

the thing i find both curious and charming about pain is it's unrivaled power. the power of pain is one that even the most idealistic optimist can't deny. unlike a soft caress- pain will always derive a feeling, even when we assume that the skin has grown too callous to feel.

lest it be a pinch or a punch- pain is synonymous with displeasure. poor, pitiful, pain- it gets such a bad rap, and why? because it doesn't directly emote happiness? because often time it forces one to learn a lesson? because pain is a harder emotion to forget than pleasure? whatever your issue is with pain, i assure you it's not as dismal as it might seem...

when i was 17 pain paralyzed me for the first time in my life. i went to an open casket funeral; his name was andrew and he was my second cousin. our story was an interesting one and began in middle school- before we even knew we were related. i knew him as the incredibly talented soccer star, whom all the girls swooned for. he was funny, personable, intelligent, dynamic and he talked to me. a seemingly trivial fact now but at the time middle school politics dictated that like oil and water, we weren't to mix. he was popular, attractive, and well spoken; i was still about 4 years shy of puberty, donned the classically lame glasses + braces combo, and i hadn't yet grown into my killer wit.

what i later came to find out was andrew was a bit of tomcat. don't get me wrong- he was sweet and genuine but he told me later in our friendship that he initially had talked to me in hopes of getting closer to my sister- the hot one, who was two years older and in high school! but unlike every other boy who hit me up in hopes of scoring with my gorgeous,untouchable older sister, andrew became my friend as years went on.

my great aunt, who was a second mother to everyone who knew her, passed away and our family attended the funeral. while at the luncheon the church threw after the service i saw andrew's mother. when our eyes met she scurried over my way, "hi ashley, you don't know me very well but my name is pam- and i'm your aunt...more or less." my mother's side of the family is a twisted tree to say the very least- west virgina residency, illegal adoptions, common law marriages, and what can only be described as "bloodless, self-imposed familial ties" is what they call the extended family.

she went on, "i'm not sure if you have met, but i believe you have a class with my son andrew- he's your second cousin." ANDREW? the boy who wanted to sleep with my sister IS MY SECOND COUSIN? i suppose it could have been worse- instead of some lustful, meaningless schoolboy crush, he could have actually slept with her...hello therapy! i've grown to love the mystery that is my maternal side, but at the time i was horrified. upon my return to school i saw andrew and asked if he knew of our relation- it was news to us both.

in high school we had gym together and both suffered sports injuries around the same time. he and i were sidelined and forced to watch everyone learn volleyball while we wrote papers on how our lives were enriched through the sport of spikes. both of us had gotten knocked up in soccer; he had chronic knee issues because of the dedication he had for his sport; and during a tournament a girl slide tackled me from behind and broke my wrist (full disclosure: the year prior, in the same tournament my actions lead to her breaking her arm off of a corner kick...i will go to my grave stating i never intentionally hurt her- nor did i even get carded for the move but i digress.) it was during this time we grew the closest we would ever be.

within a year he left for reform school and our conversations grew more sparse. our interactions became limited to family events, which were few and far between. then one day a medicine ball hit me square in the chest- i was told andrew was dead.

a death in high school is terrible for two reasons: one- teens are already on an emotional precipice and a death of a peer can have far reaching emotional consequences; two- (which was the unfortunate case with andrew) the rumor mill spins wildly and the death becomes a sideshow of sorts. i talked to his mother on several occasions after his death and to this day she regards the gossip surrounding her son's death as one of the biggest challenges during the grieving process.

i remember not wanting to go to the funeral not because i was too distraught to be seen in public, but i feared that people would judge my lack of reaction harshly. andrew and i talked openly of our depression and at that time i was still in a very dark place. while it wasn't directly the effect of his death, my depression had taken a turn for the worst and this was merely icing on the cake. i wanted to go to support his family and let them know what a brilliant light andrew had within him, so i sucked up my fears and went to the funeral.

it was an open casket...he was 17 and it was an open casket. to this day the image is burned in my mind...him lying there, soccer trophies peppered about a table next to him, the top of the casket littered with old photos and memories. it was the first time physical pain from sadness paralyzed me. i stood about six feet away from the coffin with my left hand on my right shoulder- this was the time when i should have cried, but all i could do was stand and stare. there was no outward expression of sadness, no tissues, no dramatic scene, just me standing in front of a coffin staring blankly at my friend- my family- andrew.

in hindsight, it's really no big surprise i didn't cry at andrews funeral- or any of the funerals i attended in that time of my life. emotionally i was completely shut off from the world, but with andrew's funeral came an epiphany. i was reminded that no matter how detached we become, we are always capable of feeling something. even though that something manifested itself in crippling depression and an awkward statuesque scene in front of a casket, the fact of the matter was that i felt something.

pain is vilified so much in our world because it's not pleasure, dealing with it isn't as easy as simply accepting joy. but that doesn't mean that we can't gain something from each painful experience that we have. with andrew's death, i learned that the lights are never completely turned off until you are dead. that no matter how strongly you believe you are emotionally inept or that depression is all you can feel- remember that you are feeling and you are alive...and that's forever something to celebrate.


  1. I stumbled across your blog a few weeks ago I guess, and while I have enjoyed your posts thus far, this post really struck me since I've recently been humbled by pain.

    Having just experienced the worst physical pain I've ever had, I recognize that I wouldn't trade that time in my life for anything. I feel stronger both physically and emotionally.

    Thanks for sharing. You're a wonderful writer!

  2. I hate the fact that showing pain is considered a weakness by society. All I want to do is express myself without feeling "crazy" or "psycho" because I'm not happy all the time. The view of pain, to me, is the hardest part of depression. It imprisons me.