Pain Beyond Words, and an Impulse Just to Endure

September 21, 2009
www.nytimes.com
Danna Jennings

In each case, I was humbled by pain that to me seemed to transcend the basic medical scale of 1 (mildest) to 10 (most severe). And pain is a path to humility. When it hurts just to wriggle up in bed, elbows digging into the mattress for support, you generally don’t think of yourself as sitting atop the food chain.

And pain is a teacher. More than ever, I understand how abhorrent it is to inflict pain. I have learned to distinguish between mere discomfort and pain that can’t be tolerated. And tough-guy popular culture — oh, great, ultimate fighting on Spike TV -doesn’t impress me at all.

I have no patience these days with the Nietzschean cliché, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I’ve found that the deepest pain holds no meaning. It is not purifying. It is not ennobling. It does not make you a better human being. It just is.

All the worst pain does is reduce us to our most primal animal. We want it to stop. We want to survive. It short-circuits any sense of self, diminishes us to a bundle of biological reflexes. More…

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