May 15, 2009
I''ve thought a lot about pain this week. Monday started with a trip to the dentist. A tooth extraction left one more hole in my head and a deep gouge in my finances. Thank goodness for Harriet Gilliam at Medical Arts Pharmacy, who kindly led me to the affordable, generic versions of my prescriptions and to a steady seat.
It seems that we are all versions of the walking wounded. The world is full of hurts that cannot be calmed with an aspirin and a comfy chair.
Who can forget about Sgt. John Russell? He went into a military stress center in Baghdad and shot five of his comrades. All are dead. It must take a deeply tortured soul to attack those who you call "brothers."
Yes, the Army had taken away his weapon. But, how short-sighted to think he could not easily get another. It''s the middle of a war zone, for heaven''s sake.
Russell was on his third tour in Iraq. That is a sort of strain few of us could handle. Now, his life is ruined. His family grieves, and the families of his victims are forever damaged. The hurt from one incident travels outward, in ripples that will transcend time.
This week Chris and I watched a documentary about the months after Katrina. Told from the perspective of a New Orleans family who were too poor to evacuate, it reopened slashes to our psyches we pretend have healed. That''s the problem with pain. Just when you think you have "moved on," it resurfaces. "Time heals"? Sometimes that is just not true.
One thing revealed in the documentary was how people with nothing helped each other survive. They shared food. An inflated punching bag served as a raft, carrying 12 family members (one child was only 8 days old), two by two, from their flooding attic to higher ground.
A man, named Larry, owned the bag and devised the ferry service. Kim, the family''s wife and mother said, "Before the storm, I didn''t even consider Larry a friend." Now, she calls him "hero."
In New Orleans and in Baghdad, those who should have saved us did not. Army psychiatrists, FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, all disappointed in ways that are impossible to forgive.
However, a barely literate man with a dirty, yellow punching bag saved multiple lives.
Most days, it is easy to feel helpless. How small we are next to "The Government," or "Big Business." David had better odds against Goliath. Why make the effort at all?
We do because there is power in action. In laws of physics, or laws of the universe, there is satisfaction in a noble challenge. No matter if we are wildly successful or just give it our best try, energy for good is in motion. The quest for integrity helps healing.
Tomorrow, I will have the stitches in my mouth removed. Most of the swelling has gone down. All that''s left is a soreness, like the reminder of a punch in the jaw. Soon, that, too, will be a memory.
But, the profound pains are vast and infinite. Betrayal, heartbreak, murder, meaningless deaths of every sort, these create wounds that are not fixable. All we can really do is to behave with compassion, offering a place to sit and a punching bag to cling to. Sometimes, the smallest act has the power to mend a hurting heart.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.