I'm reading The Maytrees (Harper Collins, 2007, released June 12), Annie Dillard's latest gift to life and literature. One would be hard pressed to find a more theologically astute, refreshing and challenging writer.
One character, Deary, an odd soul of a woman living alone in the dunes of Cape Cod, shares her take on pain.
--What happened to your hand?
--I'm one step closer to death. She was enthusiastic.
Deary crossed her legs. --You see, she said to Lou, as soon as you arrive, you start hurting yourself. You burn this fingertip. Later you cut yourself--right there, on the side. Paper cut in the webbing, and years later, another beside where it healed...Another time you bang a knuckle, and maybe twenty years later you pinch its other side. With each injury you learn how that patch of you feels. It wakens. Until it heals, you're aware of those nerves.
--This is a privilege?
--Of course. Every place you injure adds that patch to your consciousness. You grow more alive. And the point of all this is--she beamed up from the sand at Lou--that when you have hurt every single place on your body, you die! Once you have felt every last nerve ending, at least on your skin, then you have lived in full awareness. Then you die.