I burned my mouth very badly this week. Worse than anything I’ve done to it before. This wasn’t a “hot slice of pizza scalds the roof of your mouth” thing. This was closer to a chemical burn, and has meant that for the past several days I haven’t been able to eat solid food because anything firmer than mushy ramen noodles makes my gums and the roof of my mouth bleed.
Gross, I know. It’s getting better, but these last couple days it’s kind of consumed all of my attention. I’ve allowed the pain I carried everywhere with me to become my whole world. When not at work, I stayed in binge-watching TV shows and dolefully avoiding my pantry door.
Coming out of my internet-free bubble and getting back to society, I’ve been hearing a lot of bad news. I’ve heard from people I know and some I don’t about the difficult life situations they’re facing: battling depression, saying goodbye to a dying friend, facing the recurrence of a serious disease they thought they were rid of, losing their dream job with no backup plan and no savings. I’ve been reading the coverage about Charleston, and realizing that there are families not too far away from where I sit tonight that are carrying their own pain around with them everywhere now, a pain far worse than any I’ve ever had to bear.
Over the last several months there have been so many discussions and so many viewpoints scrolling across my social media feeds: race in America, discrimination, distrust of police, support for police, gun control, transgender rights, gay marriage, and other complex issues boiled down to internet memes and 140-character barbs. I wish in each of those cases that instead of passing along snarky blog posts and articles brimming with yellow journalism we could instead just see the people. That’s what all those issues are about, after all: people. People different than us, perhaps, but the same in all the ways that count. People who have also faced their share of pain.
It is very easy to do what I did this past week, and allow pain to consume you. To think only of your problems, your feelings and your needs, and to forget that you are one in a world of many. But it is a better and far braver person who is able to embrace pain as a lens through which to view others. People like the family members of the Charleston shooting victims, who came face to face with the killer in court today and chose to extend forgiveness instead of more hatred.
I don’t have the “right” answer in any of the debates of our current age. You may notice I don't often weigh in when people bring up difficult subjects. Most of the time I don’t know what to say. But I want to take this as an opportunity to try to be better, to try to remember other people. Because even though there is no cure-all for the problem of pain, I think probably the closest thing we'll ever have to an answer is just to love one another.
Something that simple, and that hard.