Central Pain is a one way mirror. It is not hard to see others in a certain light, impossible for them to see you. They must come close but prefer instead to stand back. Consequently, one can’t see pain if one does not have it.
The parish priest of Austerlie
climbed into a high church steeple
so that he might be near to God, and hand His word
Down to the people
And he cried from out the steeple
“Where are thou Lord?”
And the Lord replied,
“Down here, among the people.”
We have chided the ones who, while professing education, religiosity, common sense, heightened awareness, knowing insight, or whatever, deride pain and disparage word of its presence as weakness when facing the commonplace, an exaggeration, or utter nonsense. We have mentioned our wonderment of those at church, in the doctor’s office, or even among our acquaintances who find central pain simply too much, in too many respects, to command serious attention. We have watched the sly smile of the administerer of placeboes, certain of triumph, with his data in place before the experiment begins, pouncing condescendingly upon those desperate enough to accede to whatever answers he requires. The whole charade is vomitous and disgusting. What kind of people are these?
We see them through the one way mirror and they look pathetic, narrow, cramped, pious, and self-congratulatory. They tend to regard themselves as a sort of royalty compared to those on this side of the mirror, and mingling of the celebrities with the common folks would simply not do. Those arriving early at Church to sit in the forward most pews in order to hear more clearly and worship more exaltedly certainly have no interest in those of us who remain at the back of the chapel, unable and unwilling to be exposed at all, if central pain has dictated that we cannot wear appropriate full clothing. The view from behind the last pew feels a bit lonely.
They do not turn to wonder what they might do to understand how we feel, how difficult it must be to surrender public approbation for a short reminder of how we were once able to feel about religion and to wish we were more relevant in the scheme of things. It would be nice to sign up to help clean the chapel next month, but we cannot bend over, we cannot contribute, we are beggars in their midst, without any way to pay our due, as God’s children surely must. We are a metaphor for the manner of their own salvation, but the analogy is missed. How can one learn anything from someone whose mode of dress detracts from the reverence due the Lord’s house? Our exposure might hint at some future time when they themselves may feel the need for some additional cover; but again, recognition of the comparison is likely to prove very elusive.
We could tell them they won’t like it, but they will have to learn it for themselves. We are used to the feeling. Perhaps our shame and embarassment will be the less for it.
We are grateful when they keep their eyes forward, and shrink when their eyes fall askance at us as we attempt to leave without being noticed. We came in desperation. They came in remembrance of who they have convinced themselves they are or shall surely soon become. They came to repeat scriptures, and to hear them, but when they admonish us to ask for blessings at God’s hand, whose fingers do they think generally dispense God’s blessings to mankind.
How do we recognize God’s work on the earth? With respect to central pain, those fingers bear a strong resemblance, to the point of identity, with the hard working scientist, the neighbor who simply believes us without knowing the slightest thing about pain chemistry, the doctor who tenderly sympathizes without resentment or frustration against us, if our condition refuses to cooperate with His treatment. When God gives His blessings, they are frequently delivered to men by others of His children, and spoken by those who wish that no one be forgotten. Not to be maudlin, but the Bible says “True religion is to remember the sick”. This would imply you have to be able to recognize them in the first place. Somehow we don’t think Central Pain is going to be able to participate in “true religion”, it is going to have to be “mighty true religion”.
Shall we judge them, those of the foremost seats in church, lecture hall, or gathering place? Certainly not! They behave exactly as we would have behaved before contracting central pain. We know them so well because they are our former selves, to the smallest detail. WE would have been disdainful, we would have been skeptical, we would hav been superior, and we would have been blind to what lay behind the reflection we had crafted of our rectitude, reason, and respectibility. They are us, without central pain.
We see them in an attitude of indifference, disregard, and blindness. It is the same attitude which characterized ourselves, an annoyed if not utter indifference to the needs of others. What do we wnnt. Simple acknowledgement. We want them to want to understand how we feel. We want them to behave as we realize it is appropriate for humans to behave. Instead, they insist on behaving as we would have behaved.
THIS, perhaps is one benefit of central pain, it causes us not to want to be indifferent to the sufferings of others. We want to listen, and on those few days when we are actually enabled to accomplish work, we would iike to help. It makes us feel human, what a contradiction! Formerly, our prayer would have gone something like this, “God, look what I have done for that suffering creature, please bless me for it.” Now, our prayer has become, “Thank you for the privilege of doing something for that person. Please provide some more opportunities and a refuge from the pain, so that I can be of some help, however minuscule, however weak.” There is an essential difference between those two prayers. We are learning that difference, but at what a price!
And so we have learned to listen carefully, to try to understand what the suffering feel, and avoid stigmatizing them if possible. We have also learned gratitude, the kind of gratitude that bears what we imagine to be a little like God’s gratitude, happiness at being able to bless others, rather than expecting any reward. God knows we are more bother than we are worth. We are all unprofitable servants. But Divine variety gratitude, and Divine variety listening are apparently on the other side of the mirror.
We want to be back on the other side, where ignorance is bliss, and happiness is self satisfaction. Yet, here we sit, fleshing out those two lessons, caring and gratitude. We have so little time for these two exercises in soul building Most of the time we are busy trying not to burn down the fort, captured and encircled by a burning ring of fire. We will survive the inferno, hopefully to better escape another one. Hopefully, to better understand. Hopefully, to be fit to be somewhere in the universe close to the source of all goodness.
For now, this side of the mirror feels simply awful. If we have any service to give, it is to remind those we can see that righteousness means the elimination of sorrow and suffering, not the celebration of it. We are not ignorant savages, sacrificing grain, animals, and virgins to appease the angry Gods. We know that God wants us to be delivered from pain, but He withholds His hand, and waits for man to smash the mirror, so that man can develop some Divine attributes of his own. On the other side, the mirror seems to say, “You are certainly some of the fairest of them all, but from this side of the mirror, we can see they are merely distancing themselves from real empathy.
We forgive them. They are us. However, we are losing the power to be harsh, since Nature has been so harsh to us. We are losing the ability to see suffering as the just desert of another person, since we generally know we are guilty, yet our suffering is innocent in variety.
If we really have our heads on straight, we take no comfort in the assertion by one religious writer that in the hereafter, the seating order will be reversed. For the motor impaired, perhaps we should change that to the standing order.