Today I begin with a disclaimer stating that I am not a whiner by nature and really am not fond of the aging crowd’s propensity to discuss physical ailments as a source of entertainment, however, there is a point (I hope) to sharing my current discomfort. You see, I have been in physical pain for almost a month now. The pain appears to be in my right arm which is kind of a problem since I am right-handed. During my lifetime, I have come to realize that I have a pretty significant tolerance for pain that was first pointed out to me with the birth of my son and then again with my daughter as no pain medications were necessary for delivery. (I must add this is a point of pride for me and I should probably let it go, but probably not today ☺). My current pain has been one that I first noticed when I was in Texas facilitating a workshop and I thought I had slept wrong on my arm, but after several days, weeks and now a month the pain has not gone away.
I visited my chiropractor who said if this isn’t better in a day or so, come back. I went back two weeks later ☺ when I had myself convinced I had a tumor in my back and was probably going to die soon and for a moment or two that seemed okay. Always the question of what level (number) is your pain? I don’t know but it really hurts so it must be bad.
Now, why do I tell you all of this? Well, since visiting a massage therapist (the next recommended course of action) I have had vivid images rattling around in my head. I slept with them last night and had a great essay written in my dreams, but, of course, cannot remember those “perfect” words this morning. The idea, however, is along these lines: if we hold tightly to something, the pain will stay with us. It feels protective and better in the moment, but in the long run the pain and ineffectiveness only deepens rather than dissipating. Hmm. Sounds like life to me.
All those verses of “you must lose your life to gain it”; the old butterfly poster poem of “if you love something, set it free”; “surrender your will to find your dreams” keep running through my head. The momentary instinct has been to hold my arm close and keep the pain from radiating throughout my body; to sleep tightly bundled up so I don’t move and thus hurt. The pain seems to be in my arm and my arm wants to be protected, but what I discovered yesterday is that the culprit is really a muscle (or bunch of nerves) in my chest and everything radiates from there.
As I hold tightly the muscle shrinks and while the pain is better for the moment, this holding on is actually further limiting my ability to move. In fact, rather than sleeping in a still ball, I am better served by lying with my arms wide open, stretching the muscle rather than further constricting it.
And so, that is what I believe we are called to do with life. Stretch. We are to stretch with our arms wide open. If we do not we will atrophy. In other words, use it or lose it. Sometimes we need the protection and safety of curling up and covering our hearts, but in the long run we are called to risk. To risk that first pain that grabs us and says, “go no further.” We are called to look fear in the face and say, “today I will test myself just a little bit.” I will stretch my arm to see if I can move a little further.
Even though this is not exactly the essay I wrote in my sleep last night, I hope you get the picture. I still have a hundred metaphors running around in my brain about this whole incident, but bottom line is that today even though my arm still hurts (unfortunately cures are not instant and take some hard work), I have hope. I can feel more movement and I am working with the pain rather than against it. I hope I will choose to do the same with my life. I hope you will too ☺.
photo by mary jane hughlett - belgian congo circa 1950's