There are guarantees in this life, though we forget it somewhere along the way, promises universe granted and bestowed from a force I don’t believe benevolent or malevolent, but simply there, everywhere, where it’s always been. We will go from this place one day, this the first of these unbreakable contracts, signed the moment we first gasp and open eyes to the light around us, the last we’ll understand in those stunning moments before we pause, then begin again.
Between are the millions pre-written and on their way to delivery, the millions already handed out like offerings to the alms bowls in our souls. Some are louder than others, screaming their way into existence and announcing their arrival with megaphone feedback and screeching alarm, some whisper in and seep and settle in the quiet places of our lives — there, but hidden amongst the noise and bother, true, but silently so.
One, perhaps second only to the first truth, the first promise we understand at birth and spend a lifetime delaying, is there too from the start, holds through the center of this thing, and stays until the very end. It is this, and it is often boisterously deafening, often coyly soft:
We will be given pain, over, and over, and over again.
True despite our protestations, clear though we wish it not so. Pain, again and again, the shadow we cannot quite shake though we struggle to understand why it shows in the lightness, but also in the dark. What does not come as guarantee, what isn’t fated to us like some dim-lit destiny, is that it’s how we choose to transform that pain that will define the people we are, those we will become.
Some will define themselves by this pain they are given, convince themselves they are unique in their suffering, the only to ever be so slighted, to ever carry such weight. Sorrowful they become, and sometimes so bloated with bitterness they cannot find their souls shape in their silhouettes. This hurt turns, eventually as all things turn, and like rust on metal left to the grass and rainfall and wheat fields that dance in winter storms, stains into something new. Perhaps this is where anger is born, in this lonely torment that lies into our ears, drips it like poison from honeyed fingertips, perhaps this is the genesis of all frustration.
We are slighted, say we in these hours, unfairly given more pain than the rest. We are slighted, say we.
I offer no proof here, as those shouting with thickened skin won’t see it anyway, as I’ve none of any empirical value, but I say to this as gentle as I can, Shhhh, shhhh. We are given pain, this truth that follows only death in its poignancy, all of us, everywhere. The prince and the pauper will both suffer, though the colors of that ache may not match, the monarch and the monk both will know hurt, and it is not up to us to compare the magnitude of the misery.
On this long road of defining the people we are, those we will be, some will carry the rust of their anger and it will change them. Some are made hard and cold and resentful of the weights they carry, they turn against, like others are the cold winds and their faces cannot stand the sting. They cast blame thinking the further they throw it the less it can remind them, still it comes back, boomerang of a thing, this pain we’re given, this anger it creates. Some though, some swallow pain and somehow, some magic how I’ve not ever worked out the machinations to, some go another way.
These are the star whales, those that carry a world upon their back and no matter how tortured, only become kind. This is a reference, as is the photo that accompanies it above, that might be confusing to some, and so I shall summarize in the closest I can muster to brevity for a subject as important, as beautiful to me, as Doctor Who:
On April 10, 2010, an episode of my favorite show, Doctor Who, was released entitled “The Beast Below,” and it both made me weep, and simultaneously changed my life. In the episode, set in some far-off future onboard the Starship UK, an entire city floating through space after some disaster on earth sent everyone heavenward. To quickly abbreviate the show (though you must all promise to go watch) I will just say that The Doctor and his companion, Amy Pond, discover that the spaceship isn’t a ship at all, but a giant creature called a Star Whale, that after the solar flare disaster made earth uninhabitable, picked up what remained of London and its people, and though it was the last of its kind, flew off to keep them alive. The Doctor discovered that all these centuries, the poor whale was being electrocuted and tortured to keep it flying/swimming through space, a secret willingly forgotten time and again by those in charge, a cheap way to alleviate that guilt. When The Doctor finally turned off the machine that tortured the Star Whale, rather than cast off the city and its people, after all those centuries of evil, he swam on through the stars, he chose kindness instead.
Some, it seems, take the pain they are given, and like Rumpelstiltskin, spin it into gold. Like Amy Pond said of the Star Whale that led to this article:
“Amazing though, don't you think? The Star Whale. All that pain and misery. And loneliness. And it just made it kind.”
It just made it kind. I am blessed to know Star Whales in my life, and while I needn’t name their names here, I trust they know who they are. I have spent a lifetime trying to become one myself, one who takes the pain they endure and transforms it into something beautiful, something that holds others up instead of down, something that soothes instead of screams out. What the Star Whale knew, in Doctor Who, what those I have seen in life also understood is simple: We can choose, though it doesn’t always seem so.
I have learned that though it’s always given, how we choose to transform it, the places we put it, the way we dance through the destruction that will inevitably come, dictates the people we are and the life we will lead. We cannot hide behind our pain, we cannot blame everything on it, no, we must choose something else, we must scrub the rust of our frustration and anger, polish all that metal until once more, it shines.
From this truth comes a final lesson, one subtler than the rest, camouflaged in subtext and half-speak, and it too is simple though potent. We must be gentle with all those we encounter, we must lend curiosity and not judgement, for all we know, all we meet, all those who will ever wander into and out of our lives, are tortured in their own ways. By the world, by their circumstance, by themselves, tortured, as we are, as we have always been.
I watched a movie trailer the other day, and a quote resonated out and stunned me, and I will share it here. “You don't escape trauma by ignoring it, you escape trauma by confronting it.”
This is what Star Whales do, this is what we can do. Take all of that pain, that misery, that loneliness, and my goodness, let it make us kind.
There are guarantees in this life, we know this well, but the rest is up to us. Take what you’ve endured, take it all and let it transform you.
Let it make you kind.
We are given pain,
how we choose to transform it
defines who we are.
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