“How long will it hurt?” Will was around seven when he asked that question. It was after a skinned knee or elbow. I don’t remember the wound – only those words. And the insistence that I just tell him how long. The begging. Wouldn’t it be a great feat to look at a watch or a calendar and mark the end time or date? How much more manageable pain would be if we had that ability.
Instead, the time of intense pain puts us in a different continuum, bare of minutes and hours and outside the realm of normal. How can there be a normal anywhere when the here and now is filled with this much pain? Must the birds sing this morning? How can the sun reflect onto clouds and hand us the most glorious sunset?
If we could only answer that question. How long will it hurt? How much farther from today will a footstep out of bed be the first one back to the patter of life before that ensconcing pain? As much as it may seem to be a perverse punch to the gut, the fact that life continues around us gives a sense of comfort when that first return step into "normal" is made.
The uncertainty of pain exhausts. The unknown when and where and how forces us to live in the moment. Moment after moment. Living normal life on skates, that slowness induced by pain feels unnatural. Living in the moment and letting go of the control we look for in daily life – another layer of pain.
Concentric circles of pain fall around the person at the center of it. Whether an unwelcome diagnosis or an unexpected illness, an equal but different intense pain emanates from the center of that pinwheel to the first closest circle; the ones who would do or give anything to make that pain disappear but who can only comfort and support the person fighting the fight.
And with our woven friendships and acquaintances, the circles continue to increase in number. And in those outer circles, we want the same for the inner circles: for the pain to subsist. To find that answer to “How long will it hurt?” All of us have been in those tight inner circles, asking the same question. And, if there was any way we could, we would answer that question to alleviate some of your pain.
Instead, it remains the unanswered question, and often times, all we can do is let you know that a piece of our heart is with you every day.
(Another pondering: Untying the Mother-in-law's Tongue.)