Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Authors Notes - Pain On Hold

It seems like an odd and destructive pattern to put emotional pain on hold. The pain has to go somewhere; sometimes it is channeled to a locked door in our soul only to emerge later, or it is directed to physical pain only to emerge later in a morphed form. As babies, we don’t know how to quash the pain and we cry and scream when we need something. We react until the need is met and it is over. As we age, we are taught to moderate our reactions to our needs in more appropriate ways. That makes sense, but what if we are taught to hide the pain altogether? Years ago I attended a sermon in which the pastor talked poignantly about a busload of students that were killed in a tragic bus accident. He spoke with eloquence to the bereaved audience, and he cried. I approached him after the sermon to express my own feelings and to thank him for the beautiful sermon. He apologized repeatedly for crying during the tribute. I told him that his crying was understandable and moving, but he remained disappointed in himself as he continued to apologize to the parishioners. I walked away wondering who told him that he was not allowed to cry.
We are taught somewhere between infancy and adulthood to place our emotional pain on hold, for the sake of others . This can be seen in a passage from Pages in the Wind, when young Emily takes her last drive to her Grandmother’s house to tell her of the family’s move to New York. Emily buries her emotional pain to avoid the anger that her tears would cause to her father:

The ride to grandma’s house was miserable. Her father smoked cigars and coupled with the car air conditioner, the air was stale and the stench and smoke made her eyes water and burn. She sat in silence as the car pulled into grandma’s driveway. What always seemed a beautiful and inviting sight now had an air of finality and sadness. She fought the feeling for she knew that grandma would be coming out on the porch to greet them. Her mother had told grandma on the phone that they were moving to New York, and knowing that this was the last time that Emily would see her for many years made her eyes well up with tears, and her lip quiver. She bit her lip to stop the trembling, and pulled on her golden hair to redirect her emotions from sadness to physical pain. She knew that her father would be angry if he saw her cry. Grandma finally stepped out onto the porch, her weathered face seemed older without her smile, and Emily pulled her hair harder to stop her tears.

This developing pattern of putting her pain on hold is contrary to Emily’s sensitive nature. How she channels the pain will become an important element in her development as a young woman. I wonder how many of us put our pain on hold for the benefit of others. What is the price of this benefit and is the cost worth the destruction that it does to our emotional well-being?

The pain that we put on hold cannot stay on hold forever. Doesn’t pain need to be released in order to dissipate? If we hold a ten pound rock for five minutes, we can handle that. Hold the rock for an hour and it feels heavier. Hold the rock for a month and it becomes intolerable. At some point, the rock will need to be released because we simply cannot hold the rock forever. It will eventually weigh us down to the point of collapse. How long do you hold the rock of your own emotional pain?