“Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.” ~Robert Gary Lee
“I won’t! I promise!”
“I think you’re going to touch it like you did before. You tricked me,” he cried, tears rolling down his cheeks and dropping into the bath water.
James had a huge rubber tire burn on his calf from the day before with a piece of paper towel fused to it. It had needed to be covered with something and there hadn’t been any Bandaids, so we improvised with a doubled-up piece of paper towel and a tube sock to hold it in place.
It was looking scary by the next morning and my daughter and I had tried everything to get him to either agree to let one of us pull it off, or take it off himself.
All we got in response was tears and hysterical screaming. He was remembering the night before when I nearly sat on him to clean it up and get it covered so that he could have a restful sleep.
My daughter sat down and waited. I was perplexed. Part of me said, “It’s his leg. Leave him alone. What’s the worst that could happen?” The other part of me said, “He’s only 4. He’s scared of pain. You have to help him somehow.”
So I carried him kicking and screaming to the bath, stripped him as he calmed down, and set him in the water that my daughter had drawn.
I held the leg in the water, telling him that it was only a matter of time before the paper dissolved and he wouldn’t feel any pain in the process. I was euphoric when the first layer floated off. So was he. We both thought that the event was over. But the layer adhered to his skin mocked us both. Small tugs by James made him anxious and furious.
“What time is it, Kel?”
“9:20.” I had 15 minutes before I had to leave for work. Giving up and leaving the paper stuck to the sore was not an option. James wanted to go to the county fair later that day and his leg needed ointment and a fresh bandage which were being delivered in a few hours before I’d let him go.
For 25 minutes I sat on the floor beside the tub, regaining James’ trust. I’d point to a corner that I thought had softened, only to send him into a panic, grabbing my hands and holding them far away from his leg. The paper wasn’t budging and I was starting to wonder if it was time to rip it off myself. But, I’d promised him I wouldn’t trick him again, and I needed him to believe me.
So I sat and stop pointing.
“I need both hands,” he whimpered, warning me with a look that interfering with his efforts was against the rules.
I cheered and encouraged when he decided he was ready to tug at a corner and he succeeded. Little by little it came off, five minutes between each success, and we both breathed a sigh of relief when the last piece let go.I dried him off and carefully helped him get dressed. I passed him the ointment which he applied bit by bit, and then made his way out to the living room.
“I’m brave.” he whispered. He’d grown so much with that one experience.
And that was when I learned about pain and our roles in how we show up while the ones we love are struggling. I thought I’d understood. But what I didn’t know until that moment was that I really wasn’t sure about roles, responsibilities, boundaries, and growth that occurs when we truly grasp the significance of pain and suffering.
Sometimes we’ll be invited or begged to hold someone’s hand.
Sometimes we’ll be asked to leave someone alone.
Sometimes we’ll know instinctively that the pain will only start healing if we choose to leave because the person in pain needs to stand in quiet, self-reflective spaces.
Sometimes we’ll listen, laugh, or hug.
But rarely if ever will we be asked to do their work for them.
And if we are, remember my James – his growth happened when both of my hands were being held tightly away from him both literally and figuratively.
We never heal or help heal another person’s pain.
Isn’t that so freeing?!!