The Art of Experiencing Pain
The shot of the starting gun cracked through the silent morning; ten thousand pairs of feet began pounding against the cold asphalt. I was running my first half-marathon. My first 13.1 mile road race. Typical of a naïve youth, I took off at a rapid pace for the first two miles and was forced to stop, gasping for precious air. My legs were filled with burning lactic acid; it was simply another signal of pain from my body. I closed my mind to the agonizing sensations and continued running. After another few miles, I stopped once again, this time due to a searing pain in my shins. My lips were dry and cracked. The icy cold wind cut across my face. I could feel neither my feet nor my hands. Instinctively, I closed my eyes and moved on to the last part of the foot race.
A feeling of hopelessness came over me in the last few miles. Questions bombarded my mind. Could I finish? Should I stop and quit? The pain was overwhelming. I was forced to use every ounce of determination and perseverance to keep my heavy legs moving. Armed with these weapons, I fought my way through the race. The next hour went by painfully slow. I recall catching a glimpse of the finish line timer as I flew by within the two hours that had been my goal. After that, I collapsed on a patch of grass surrounded by waves of fellow athletes. Fellow athletes who, like me, were experts in the art of handling pain.
I look back at that race as an epic battle fought against an enemy with neither mind nor body. I look back at that race as my conquest of physical and psychological pain. A week later, my grandmother fought a bigger battle, diabetes. Whereas my adversary had been pain, my grandmother’s was death. She lost her battle despite a memorable fight. When my parents told me about her death, I was not shocked or saddened; I did not feel the amount of pain I should have. I don’t see myself as insensitive or heartless and I don’t believe that I’m immune to pain. No one is. I see myself as being able to cope with pain. Pain is an inextinguishable fire that can be quelled but never put out. The only way to deal with pain is to experience it. The fire can be blanketed, choked, covered, or abandoned. But it will always exist.
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