Friday, November 20, 2009

The Badge of Pain


Our scars are not always visible. Our pain is not necessarily self-evident. Jesse died on Saturday. He died of too much pain for his 18-old years to handle. His pain was inside, hidden by his disarming smiles, but so evidently rubbed raw by his perpetual concealment that none of us who loved him reached him in time. His suicide was evident at his funeral, this last Thursday, 23rd of July, 2009, but as to how he committed it I did not bother to find out.

These past three years he was my student. We’d Face-booked. He hugged me all but a month ago, just before he graduated from grade 12. A month or two before that, both of us wearing pink T shirts on the “students against bullying” day, as I sat in my power-chair, he’d climbed up on my lap, and like two pink petunias in a black pot we’d glowed for the photo. He’d even dyed his hair pink for the occasion. But on Saturday, Jesse died. He died to potential, to power, to possibility. He gave it all up for the immediate release from the perpetual pain of his circumstance; he evidently did not see how he could change it.

Where is our part in all of this? How do we see others’ pain? I drove to the funeral, parked about 300 paces away, did not use my handicap-sticker since I’ve been walking more and more, entered the vestibule, was not in my usual power-chair, had my hand shaken by various people, had to cue up, shuffle forward, stand seemingly interminably, then stoop over the sign-in book , then repeat the movements all over again to enter the church, walk the aisle down to the pew, managed an end seat, but had to get up three times to allow others past me, had to stand for seemingly forever during some of the sermon and songs, and then... well, I walked out at the last moment, ahead of the throng, had to shake the hand of a former student on passing in the vestibule, and at last managed to reach my car, my senses grey with my exertion, my toes, shins, legs, hips, and forearms and fingers and neck burning and scorching and needling at me. But nobody had seen it. No one appeared to notice. Without my chair I had not warranted the slightest deference due to my condition. I’d looked like everyone else. And now I had to pay for it, in pain.

We presume each other’s health; we take for granted another’s ability to smile, to stand, to be shaken, and even to be bumped. It is natural. But might we not use more care, be more gentle, be more considerate, be more cautious if we could but see the possible pain? There are many persons in wheel-chairs who do not have pain; they can play basketball from a chair. There are many persons who wear their pain as an appendage in the form of a cane, a brace, a sling; it signals to others that there is certain fragility to this particular flower in the garden of life.

Like the pink T shirts: Do not bully! Only today?But to bully is by definition intentional. Like one’s choice of words. Or not. And to walk and sit and stand and shake one’s hand is by definition natural. Or not. Then might we all not be more naturally gentle with it all, with us all? Or do we really need to wear our badge of pain? Hello there, one smiles; see me, hear me, reach me, help me, care for me; and so for me to you too! Again and again. Perpetually.

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