But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.
-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
A lovely couple of ladies I know run an interactive art collective, and one of the prompts is this Maraget Atwood quote.
It resonated with me because I think about pain a lot.
I’ve never thought of myself as a strong person. In fact, I usually think of myself as pretty weak. But this week, as I’ve spent time at the hospital and with my doctor for pre-op stuff, I’ve been called strong more than once.
In my head, maybe, strength has always meant not feeling pain. But really, that doesn’t make sense. Strength must be about feeling pain, and also about living with it. Strength might even be about not suffering alone or not wishing it away while doing nothing.
Daron has held me while I’ve screamed in pain. He’s watched tears pour down my face and he’s heard me beg for everything to just go away. He’s been beside me when I’m–for all intents and purposes–helpless.
But that doesn’t mean pain makes me weak.
I’ve survived 20 years of pain.
In the moments, hours, and days between surges of pain, I’ve thought about how the effects of pain linger like bruises. Even when the pain is gone, it’s still left a smoking, cauterized space behind.
When the fire goes out, there is still ash and char–there is still smoke and heat.
The flame or blow or wound or fall isn’t the only thing that hurts.
The hollow that follows aches too. Sometimes worse. Sometimes for longer.
The effect my pain has had on me will live beneath my skin for a long time, like a handprint left once the grip has gone slack.
But it will not create weakness in me. It will, as it always has, give me strength.