It’s overcast where I live today. I don’t think of that weather as typical this time of year unless it’s raining. Today it’s just cloudy because of weather conditions that I can’t explain too good cuz I no smart that way. But my head gets it. Like an old bone fracture, my brain stem reacts, sometimes violently, against these weather changes. The more constant the weather, the fewer problems I have. My brain no like changey, is what I’m saying. It’s apparently damaged that way. It’s probably damaged in other ways as well, but that’s the area that drives the stake into my brain.
The good news is that according to my headache journal, today is the first day for 11 days that I’ve needed medicine for headaches. That’s a particularly good run for me. Last month it was nearly every other day, which isn’t good or healthy for a myriad of reasons. Most of which I’m happier not to know. Headaches are interruptive. They screw with my ability to be productive, creative, and present. I was going to add happy, but I didn’t. Though I will add that headaches, clinically speaking, can fuck things up. Most of the time my headaches are manageable, and occasionally they are not. Those occasions in which they are not are the ten-day stretches of constant pain. Not the curse-God-and-die kind of pain, necessarily, but no party either.
So what good is suffering? Although pain interrupts my ability to create, it also generates creativity. I am more creative and artistically productive because of my pain. I tell myself. Perhaps pain allows us to foster an inner life necessary to forge something great—pain as place, as a workshop for creativity and creation. Pain opens up spaces in my brain that are necessary for me (and for my salvation) to be opened, that would not be opened without the suffering. Furthermore, pain does not allow us to take wellness for granted; it allows to be thankful for something that we are not guaranteed in this life, that many do not have. So pain can teach us to be grateful. And compassionate. If we know what it is to suffer, we are more likely to live in solidarity with others who suffer. So that is also part of its purpose. Finally, pain makes space for us to participate in God’s plan of the redemption of all things. Not because Christ’s Paschal Mystery didn’t do what it was supposed to do, but because he allows us to be united with him in his redemptive suffering (St Paul, Colossians).
The realization of these truths about pain does not, somehow, magically take away its sting. The pain doesn’t disappear. The brain-blinding cussedness of a migraine doesn’t melt away. So I don’t do a little Irish jig when I feel a headache settling in. Pain and suffering in this world is something we rightly resist and do our best to alleviate. This is no sado-masochistic party. There is a great amount of suffering that is due to the brokenness of humanity, due to my evil and yours. So we want suffering to disappear, rightly. But we also live with open eyes, understanding that suffering comes and will come. And when its inevitable march runs roughshod over you, let it be by grace your teacher, a craftsman to create something good and beautiful in your life and for the life of the world. As best you can.