Perspective on Pain

Having grown up and lived in South Africa we are/were , possibly more than other nations, exposed to pain and suffering. Few us do not know a family who has not lost a loved one through rape or hijacking, or even just through the carnage on the road during festive seasons. The pain of such violent and seemingly unnecessary suffering is probably more severe than ‘normal’ pain. The Reach for a dream Foundation strives to alleviate the immeasurably sadness of children being terminally ill, apparently with some success. It always amazes and saddens me to see a skinny, bald-headed 7-year old exhilarated by a ride in a hot-air balloon; or a little deformed girl ecstatic about an opportunity to sit in the cab of a steam locomotive or the cockpit of a jet. The absolute, unmitigated, joy is so apparent, and they are so blissfully unaware of the profound sense of tragedy that permeates that scene.

The late John Denver, well known for his soppy Country & Western ballads, phrased it beautifully when he sang: Some days are diamonds and some days are stone… It is also true of our own lives. Some days are good and some days not; and nobody, but nobody can escape sadness, death and pain. The pervasiveness of drugs is symptomatic of man’s attempted flight from pain and misery. But it is inescapable, inevitable, and as the cliché goes, you can run but you can’t hide.

Another famous balladeer (John Lennon) once implored the world to Imagine…a world without war, world without famine and without pain, just everlasting peace. Well can you imagine?

A world without pain is world without joy, world without suffering can not know happiness. You can not experience the happiness of life and living without the counterpoint of death and dying. Without darkness there can be no light, without fear there is no relief. Beauty is only beauty when contrasted with ugliness. The yin and yang of life is happiness and pain. You cannot feel passion if the fires of hate have never burned in you. A life without pain would be like living in a monastery - a mere mockery of real life. There is no pleasure, nothing to conquer other than utter boredom. Would you want to trade a life filled with love and hate, fear and joy, happiness and sadness; for a life that has no thrill, just everlasting harmony, no beauty, no ups and no downs, just a smooth straight road lying ahead of you, where you can know for sure that tomorrow is the same as today, and as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that…

It is obviously easy to philosophize about pain as an abstract necessity, when you don’t have a loved one lying on a hospital bed, dying; or a wife recovering from a rape; but it does not invalidate this particular reality. Theoretically retrenchment is a good thing because it forces you to become an entrepreneur and will bring out the best in you; until it is your turn to a get the pink slip. The fact is, irrespective of how you feel at a particular point of your life when faced with extreme sadness, the juxtaposition of sadness and happiness is an immutable truth that cannot be altered. Further proof of this reality plays itself out in front of our eyes everyday. When people become rich and famous, they can more or less insulate themselves from most everyday sufferings. Their wealth becomes a fairly effective shield against the common miseries of the common man. But by being less exposed to pain, they have to seek continuously more outrageous thrills to make them happy. Their sense of joy and wonder becomes dulled because it is not sharpened by life’s tragedies. They explore evermore dangerous thrills, including artificial stimulants, just to re-capture that sense of being truly alive. Almost invariably they bemoan the fact ‘money cannot buy happiness’. Well, they are wrong, as any poor person will quickly point out to you that money can indeed buy happiness. The problem is, one of the intended consequences of money is that it shields you from the miseries of normal life, or subconsciously people possibly equate the absence of misery and unhappiness as being the same as being happy, when in truth it is not even remotely so.

Few people manage to break free of the shackles of their upbringing which inculcates in all of us that success is measured by something tangible, when in truth, it is a state of mind. And you are wise when you realise that you cannot be happy all the time, so that even in sadness, somewhere deep down you are merely biding your time when life will bestow happiness on you again.