Wednesday, July 11, 2007

William Stringfellow on pain and suffering - 2 of 3

TO MAINTAIN LUCIDITY. “To maintain lucidity in the midst of pain requires an effort at once enormous and resourceful. In pain, much more than in physical health, sanity itself is always an issue…” So writes William Stringfellow in reflection of his experience of extended, intense pain. In this excerpt he talks about ways he tried to cope with pian by way of various diversions.

TROUBLE IDENTIFYING PAIN. “I learned it is difficult to identify pain, unless by its apparent absence. In the early days of my disease when the pain was episodic, it seemed to me that I could distinguish what pain is, but whatever facility of discrimination I then had, I lost as the illness deepened and the pain became relentless and, paradoxically, so familiar that I ceased to think of myself as in pain. I am not talking about bearing pain with a stiff upper lip or any kind of stoicism, I am referring to a state of the person—body and mind—that becomes so vulnerable to pain that there remains no comprehension of what freedom from pain is.”

WORKING THRU PAIN. “While en route to this extremity, I sought respite in various diversions. The aim in such exercises is to find a distraction sufficient to temporarily displace the pain as a fascination. It is, I suppose, a form of delusive sublimation…I persevered in trying to finish a manuscript… More helpful, for a while, was work involving great but brief concentration combined with manual effort. I learned how to make bread…"

WHO'S WATCHING WHOM? "Television, which I suspect was invented as a distraction, proved of little avail against pain and may well have aggravated it. Only half facetiously I thought that when a TV set is on it is actually television that is watching you. But on days and nights when it seemed I was consigned to do no more than linger in distress, I and it watched each other…”

PSALMS AND SEARS CATALOG. “Reading proved more effective in providing diverting intervals from the pain... Two things to which I most often turned to read, for my purpose, were the Psalter [the Psalms] and the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog. I had not previously done more than scan either, though I had frequently been in circumstances where each would be cited as authority… The Psalms, with their terrible esteem for the godliness of God, and Sears, with its infinite attention to the creatureliness of human beings and its nice detail of American culture, make apt companions for a Christian as a common reader.”

AWAITING DEATH OR TRANSCENDENCE? “One after another such comforts or distractions were neutralized by pain. The issue drawn was whether to numbly await the perfection of pain in death or whether, somehow, pain would be transcended..."

More later...

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