There is pain that maybe you can never get away from. That sits, perhaps, chubby and soft on a distant limb, chirping so persistently that you forget it is there. Forget that it has a place, in a scheme that is larger than you. Forget, eventually, to hear its singing. Perhaps the biggest mistake is thinking you’ve got it figured in. Or that it’s just a birdie. Chances are, you don’t, and it isn’t.
Yesterday, at the tail end of a tiny drama from people in my past, my pain came back to me. And not like, it lit upon my shoulder and whistled a tune. No, it mauled me. A bear. Probably on one of the most impossibly busy days of my work year, as weather threatened carefully planned logistics. I have a huge event starting today, an event that I love. I love it ceaselessly. It brings me joy and satisfaction to do the good work of this event. I am ridiculously excited to see everyone. But instead of feeling like I usually feel the night before, cheerful and overwhelmed, with my head stuffed full of details, I wept myself to sleep at 9pm. All the signs, all the tickets, the emails, the notes, the question marks sat, in neat stacks on my desk and on the floor of my office.
Now, I’m awake. It’s 1am. My eyes are slits, and my head is a painful stone. I am thinking twenty million thoughts. They slowly tick by in my head, as if on a reel. They should be things like, John Doe needs a name tag — where can I get 200 compostable spoons? — I wonder what the weather is doing in Kentucky today — Will I have enough time? Instead they are piling up thusly:
Well, lies are just the worst thing—they do harm. John Doe needs a name tag. No one will ever know how this feels. I still need spoons. But abandonment is possibly of equal harm. What about the snow in Kentucky? Or, maybe it isn’t possible to love me. Maybe they were right. Will I have enough time?
I sat down to write because I thought it would help me focus. It’s not working fast enough. At 1am, I have no conclusions, and still, no spoons. It’s bringing back memories of my life a year ago, when I kept waking up to realize I was living a nightmare, but I had to go, anyway. Go to work. Pack lunches. Walk to get places. Eat to live. Now, it’s less acute, of course, but it is a not-so-funny reminder. This event looming, now, is much more important than people who hurt other people, but remembering, concretely, that you can be loved, is more important than spoons. So, in the game of living with pain, today is upon me like a punch: Stop crying, and print signs.
Last night, I dimly wondered if the unquenchable feeling of hurt was a horrible sign. Maybe I’m not better. Maybe I was fooling myself. Maybe it’s starting all over again. Oh no, no. What will I do if I have to do that again? I can’t do it again. I can’t do it again.
I went back to bed for 45 minutes, and lay with my eyes closed, letting the tumbling thoughts tumble. I’ve given up now, of course, and even made coffee. It’s 3am. Maybe it’s the caffeine, or maybe it’s the nagging work of the day, but I think I’ve got it now. Here’s the thing: It isn’t starting all over again. And I can do my job. In fact, it will be very easy, and it will be fun. And I can be loved. And I’ve got my story straight. And I know that it doesn’t so much matter what you feel; it mostly matters what you do. In the doing, you usually find your footing. Eventually, you will feel better.
4am: Here’s the thing: I am better now. This time last year, it felt impossible to get out of bed in the morning. Now, it just feels hard to do my job on its busiest day. This time last year, I found that when I got up anyway, and made the bed, that even that small act reminded me of my power. So today, I must go. I must do what I do best, and bring people together, solve problems, make things happen, make jokes, smile. Maintain revolution, pain in tow. Pain in my pores, under my nails, in the bones of my fingers, wrapped around too many coffee cups.
I don’t think I will make this mistake again. Perhaps you never forget pain, you just get better at wearing it. Today, I want to wear this well. I want to let it humble me. Dammit, I want to get it right.