Ordinary pain

“The heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn.”  — Stanley Kunitz (The Testing-Tree)

One of my favorite words is “ordinary.” (Insert joke here: “Your favorite color is gray.” “Your favorite NYC street is 3rd Avenue.”)

Yeah, yeah.

I mean it, though.

For one thing, it’s the opposite of special, which I think is about the meanest thing you can call someone.

What I like about “ordinary” is that it conveys a sense of everyday-ness to the ups and downs of life that happen, well, everyday.

While we like to think that tragedy, sadness, accidents, death and all that messy stuff happens merely now and again, it’s really the norm. Life is filled with this stuff (just as it’s filled with all sorts of lovely, wonderful things). Emotional pain is an ordinary part of life. It simply goes along with being human.

Your heart is designed to be broken

When someone hurts you, you hurt. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Perhaps we’re spoiled. The world offers us all sorts of products and services promising relief from pain, and so we expect some sort of product or technique might come along and free us from the agony of ordinary suffering.

Ironically, our resistance to accepting the presence of this pain can be the very thing that makes it unbearable. We act like something’s wrong–that our bodies are betraying us. And so we act as one does when something’s wrong; we act as though we’re sick, and do things to try to “cure” ourselves of that sickness, which often ends up as self-destructive activities like drinking, or calling an ex, or getting in a fight.

I think we’ve got to find a way of saying to ourselves (and finding other people who can say it to us), “This is how this is supposed to go.” “My body is working just fine.” “This is awful and uncomfortable, but I’ve got to find a way to be with this.” “I’ve got to make this pain ordinary.”

More bad news: The pain doesn’t go away

The old story is that “it takes time,” implying that at some point the pain, like a muscle ache, starts to fade. But that’s not what’s really going on. When someone we love dies, or our heart is broken or betrayed, the pain doesn’t really go away. What happens (if we let it) is that we grow in ways that make room for the pain–we change our relationship to the pain so that it’s less burdensome to live with.

We take what, at first, can feel extraordinary and make it ordinary.