I heard my high school gym teacher screaming in my ear, “Pain is good, Sciarappa!” as I ran (limped) laps around the track. I was making my way through my 20-minute run test, an infamous test taken by everyone at my high school. It was the worst. In order to demonstrate how much I hated the 20-minute run test, I’ve compiled a few things I’d rather be doing than wheezing around an oval monotonous loop: gargling motor oil, pushing paper clips underneath my fingernails, blowing my nose with sandpaper and listening to DJ Casper’s original funk dance hit, “The Cha Cha Slide” on repeat nonstop for 24 hours are just a few.
Luckily the test ended, and the pain was substituted by a rush of relief and a post-run boost in energy, keeping me seemingly chipper and awake for the rest of my school day.
I don’t really like pain: physical pain, emotional pain and especially seeing the pain of others. I think I’m not alone in thinking this. Just look at advertising. What does every ad on TV, the radio, YouTube, try to alleviate? The answer is: some kind of pain. Geico alleviates the pain of not having car insurance by assuring us that 15 minutes could save us 15 percent or more on car insurance. Apply Head On, directly to your forehead to get rid of that nasty head ache pain. Get this or that surgery to inflate or reduce a part of your body in order to get rid of the pain of looking a certain way. Why would you ever deal with pain when there is a substance or drug to fix it, a product to distract it or friends to divert you from it?
Our culture of advertisement, music and parenting has a point when they say pain is bad, and the point is this: It doesn’t feel good. It gets in the way. Pain is not easy. But I think my disgruntled drill sergeant gym teacher had a much better point as his screaming accompanied light mucus spraying my ear when he told me, “Pain is good.” In fact, I think pain should happen to every one of us.
You know what? Pain is really good. I’m not talking about stubbing your toe, paying $8 for a small beer at the stadium or forgetting to set your DVR to record the last episode of “How I Met Your Mother” pain. I mean getting your heart broken, fighting with a friend or grappling with the death of someone who wasn’t ready to go pain.
I promise I’m not a morbid person. But I do think people try their hardest to forget the true and unmistakable fact: Life is hard.
When we forget that life is hard, we act really surprised when a traumatic event reminds us it is. When pain hits us like a bag of bricks left over from the Bohannon Science Center, our minds go into shock, making the little hamster running on the wheel within the confines of our brains collapse and stop breathing its little hamster breaths.
We shut down when pain arrives. We look for comfort or distraction at all costs, even if that means resorting to doing something crazy, like drinking a lot or lashing out against others. But rather than do those things, or something worse, why not sit with pain? Embrace it like a choo choo train storming straight at you. Yeah, it’s going to start out terrible (kind of like a first date in the middle of finals week), but on the second date, you’ll know so much more about pain and what it gives to you.
Because if there is one thing pain does, it teaches you about yourself. It builds who you are. It helps you teach others.
So next time you see some pain coming your way, pain of any degree, sit with it. Contemplate it. Take time to hurt with no distractions. See what it has in store for you. It’s probably the most human thing you’ll do today.