Again: On suffering, the gain of loss, and doing things again

Throughout the past week and a half, I’ve been suffering from frequent headaches. Or, more accurately put, I’ve been suffering from one continuous headache, which has shifted its shape, has ebbed and has flowed, but has not abated.

It’s easy to become discouraged when in perpetual pain, and discouragement is an understatement for how it has affected me at times. Instead of being able to read and write, my mind has been sluggish and slow; thinking hurts. Instead of being able to do, and feel value in doing, I’ve been forced of necessity to rest, to be content in being. Instead of seeking out the light, I hide from it – close the curtains, turn off lights, lament a sun-filled day.

Yet today things felt a little better, a little brighter. The fog permeating my mind if not lifted then lessened, and I felt myself able to think more clearly. So I tried my hand at writing. To my surprise, the words still came easily; ideas which before had seemed dull and obscure were once more exciting. I felt a thrill in creativity, in creating something beyond itself which has value inherent in being, in being made and delighted in.

Energized by those words, I decided to go for a jog. I hadn’t ventured to run since the headaches began, and I missed the feeling. I missed so much about running – something about the motion sparks my creativity, moves my mind and spirit as well in a way which I can’t quite describe. As I set out, I felt as if my surroundings on the familiar path had an added brightness; they were more vivid than I remembered them, and not just because of fallen leaves coating the paved path in yellow and red. The water sparkled, and I felt a renewed joy in light.

As I was running, I thought how amazing it was to be running again. And as that word continued to appear before me, I was struck by its simple profundity. Again. Separated into two, the word became a gain, and it seemed to me that this was and is exactly right. I had gained something by being able to do these ordinary things again, and the only reason I was able to do them again was because I wasn’t able to do them for a time. 

Perhaps suffering can be a gift by taking things away. Things we lose can become gain when we are given the opportunity to rediscover them, to see these gifts as gifts, which we have forgotten that they were and are. It is a gift to hold the things we had taken for granted in gratitude, to receive rather than seize and expect.

On my run, I encountered a man in a wheelchair paused at the side of the path. Beside him was a little dog with a squashed face, waiting patiently. “Excuse me, ma’am,” the man called out to me.

I stopped abruptly, sweat dripping down my face, feeling the headache begin to creep into my temples. “Hello.”

“I think I see a four leaf clover down there and I was wondering if you could pick it for me,” the man said.

Assuring him that I would, we searched for a minute or two; with him instructing me from above, I gently pulled back blades of grass and three leaf clovers to find the four leaf wonder he had spotted. Eventually when he exclaimed that “that was it,” I unearthed it, only to find that its appearance was deceptive and it had only three leaves, after all. “Oh well, maybe next time,” he said brightly. “Thanks anyways.”

I ran on, but there was something about the encounter that stayed with me. Suffering and loss can renew our joy in life, when their presence is lifted. And yet maybe there is a way to find joy in the beauty of ordinary moments, of small things and unexpected gifts, to find gain from loss even when in the midst of it. To seek out light even when we cannot look at it fully. To see every day as a gain, even if only that it lets us start again.

One comment