Decades ago when I was in my early 20s my ex-husband – not my soul-mate husband who died recently, but a good and brilliant man nonetheless – gave me this answer in response to my demand to understand “why animals in the wild have so much pain when they’re caught by predators for food.”
“Because,” he quietly answered, “without the pain they wouldn’t try to escape” and the prey species would cease to exist, the predators would have no food source, and they would perish as well.
I’ve gnawed on that concept ever since.
Why do we have emotional pain? Why do we have physical pain? Why do children die of cancer? Why do people do horrible things to others? Why is life so difficult?
The answer I kept coming back to was the simple one my ex-husband gave me so many years ago. Because without pain we would become complacent and allow all things to continue as they are. Nothing would change. Everything would change. Everything would end.
We would not try to become better people, learning how to spend more energy on loving others than hurting them. We would not try search for the causes of our physical pain, which is only a symptom of some underlying disease process.
We would not hunt desperately for a cure for cancer. We would not be destroyed when a loved one dies.
Pain is there for a reason. Without it, nothing will ever change, except to get worse. Without pain, we as a species would die out – or more likely, rapidly kill ourselves off. And we probably would have done so long before now.
This has been the very simple basis for everything I’ve done and been for the past 40 years of my adult life. We must strive to be better than we are, to help others and by doing so, to help ourselves. We must work to eliminate all forms of pain, which includes the hard task & responsibility of understanding and managing our own.
We must be gentle with others as they may not be gentle with themselves; in turn, we must do the same for ourselves.
I am by no means the poster child of goodness and empathy. I am often impatient and so busy in my own head that I can forget that others need me.
When I am hurt or scared, I can lash out unexpectedly, and not very nicely. I usually recognize the impact that my behaviors and insecurities have on others, but am not always able to fix it. However, I do try. And when I love you… oh, I love so fiercely.
My world has been shattered by the suicide of the man I loved beyond words. My little theory works still, in that the horrendous pain I (and all survivors) feel is a necessary pain, to insure that good people push harder to find the reasons and cures for the kind of mind-numbing, devastating psychic and physical wounds that cause people to kill themselves, leaving the rest of us behind bewildered and destroyed.
Despite my theory, despite working on The Warrior Project, despite knowing that I must go on because in time I will care again… most of the time lately I find I really don’t much give a damn.
In memory of my beloved husband John Kelly Snyder… 20 Sept 1956 – 21 Oct 2016.
The Warrior Project is a warm, welcoming drop-in center for those living with extreme emotional and/or physical pain coupled with hopelessness, and a resource for families and friends fearing for the life of, or grieving the loss of, the person they love so much.
My Johnny was a true warrior, fighting demons no one else could see. I thought he was the strongest man in the world, and perhaps he was, but tragically, the demons got the better of him.
The name of this project is in no way intended to be reflective of, or piggy back off, Wounded Warriors which serves those wounded after September 11, 20o1. Like too many others, John was a warrior long before then.
Fair winds and following seas, Husband.