Life Is Pain, Princess

I have been living my whole life trying to figure out the secret. I was sure that if I worked hard enough, or bargained enough, or dieted enough, or had enough shoes, or got my kids into the right schools, that there would be a shining moment when all would become clear. I would know exactly what to do, clothes would hang perfectly on my svelte body, my skin would be flawless, I would always say the right thing, and life would be pain-free. Not just happy, but pain-free. While looking in the mirror this morning, I saw a 51-year-old woman, complete with wrinkles and a bit of a neck wattle, and I realized that the secret was a lie.

My life will never be pain free. In the words of Wesley from The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Princess.” Life is also love and passion and grieving and quiet tenderness. Life just is. There are no perfect answers, only interesting questions that make us stop, listen, and notice that this moment —this one shining moment—is all we get. We are not guaranteed another one. So, in this one moment, we can find the perfection of what is, or we can pass it by, forever seeking something “better”.

I am a big fan of movies, especially teen movies. Since my teenage years were so troubled, I am attracted to the stylized version of high school that you see in movies. On the plus side, this makes me very relatable to flesh and blood teenage girls. My hope is that I can translate the longing for something meaningful into everyday life. Because life is not what you see in the movies; it’s what you see in the mirror. It all begins and ends with you. And it’s your choice to see that as a hopeless situation, where you are burdened with trials and pain, or a forever-changing landscape of joyful challenges and pain. Pain demands to be felt (at least that’s what I remember Hazel saying in The Fault in Our Stars). But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

My mentor, Martha Beck, says, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” As I sit here with my throbbing gums (who knew that gum surgery would be easy, and the recovery would be excruciating), I can choose to sink into a pain induced depression. Or, I can distract myself with meaningful work, an inane movie, or an entertaining book. When I accept the pain and choose not to suffer, a hopeful new landscape opens up. I don’t know how this will play out in my life, but it feels big. I’ll let you know what develops.

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