Friday, May 11, 2007

Considering the Vocabulary of Pain

I have been living with chronic pain for many years. I sit and try to calculate how many years it's been -- 17? 18? Less than half my life, but not by much. I've been searching for that H.L. Mencken quote for some time now. I can't recall it exactly, but it's along the lines of "pain doesn't ennoble a person; for the majority of men, pain makes one petty and mean." It was one of those quotes I should have written down at the time but never got around to and now I can't find it for the life of me. Bloody hell.

So I go looking, and I find all sorts of interesting quotes concerning pain, some of which I'm certain are written by people whose experience with physical pain is limited to a hangnail, splinter, or stubbed toe.
This horror of pain is a rather low instinct and ... if I think of human beings I’ve known and of my own life, such as it is, I can’t recall any case of pain which didn’t, on the whole, enrich life. --Malcolm Muggeridge
Should I even stoop to comment on the utter vacuity of this statement? Yeah, Malcolm, your own life -- such as it is. I take it you didn't get out much. I've been popping Vicodin like Tic-Tacs in order to enrich my life. Care if I slap you into the middle of next week?
Pain hardens, and great pain hardens greatly, whatever the comforters say, and suffering does not ennoble, though it may occasionally lend a certain rigid dignity of manner to the suffering frame. --Antonia S. Byatt
Rigid dignity? I take it Antonia never spent an evening biting into a pillow, trying not to scream, drenched in sweat and crying from exhaustion. "Dignity" is hardly the word I would have used to describe my suffering frame at that point. I do have to agree with "pain hardens," though. I am definitely much harder -- intolerant, cynical, bitter, judgmental. "Harder" does not necessarily equal "better."

Herein lies the problem of attempting to communicate or define the nature of a subjective experience. My experience of pain is unique to myself, as your experience is to you, as these writers' experiences are to them.
Pain is as diverse as man. One suffers as one can. --Victor Hugo
I reserve the right to mock these writers, despite that. Anyone who has been dealing with pain for years has a duty to mock them, as far as I'm concerned. Enriched life. Dignity. Meh.

1 comment:

Tara Alton said...

Thank you for this post. I've been living with chronic migraines for the last ten years, and I find it extremely hard to "communicate or define the nature of a subjective experience."

Today my quote is "Pain just sucks a big one!"