A good life and a pain-free life are two different things. It may be that this information is widely available but somehow I have come to it late in the day. In the first place, I cannot imagine how one is actually alive and without pain. Ever. Of any description. Now I think how robotic that would feel; what a bland feast.
Fictional or actual models of giddy delight seem to be the norm, at least to one for whom an authentic, unforced lightheartedness was unimaginable and unattainable for so long. Many of us - and there are days when I am certain the numbers are much higher than that - come from places we recognize most easily when reading Joseph Campbell as he tells of mythic struggles, trial by ordeal, shamans as wounded healers. Abuse, neglect, exploitation, violence, indifference, damage and despair were not explored in Nancy Drew books. In the 1950s or 60s, even Charles Dickens didn't give us literature (yes, Nancy gets to be called literature in this instance) that shone any sort of light on all the ways in which children had their souls stolen by predators in business suits, clerical garb or masks that could pass for ordinary.
These children grow with the sense that they have no control over their actions, choices or lives. A malevolent force resides in the space that should belong to heart and spirit, as though even those stout allies have fled in helplessness once they assessed the gravity of the wounds. Sometimes the demons win. Sometimes the pain has overshadowed the ability to believe in anything but the pain. The child-mind is not looking for nuance; it sees black and while, pain or no pain. For more years than I can say I thought healing meant that all the hurt would be taken; that what was lost would be restored, like for like; that clarity, good and sensibile decisions, sobriety and consistency would result and only grow stronger. I believed the past could be rewritten, or more accurately erased; it never happened. This is what I longed for.
But a piece at a time, over 24 (and counting) years of relentless recovery, I discovered that to exclude certain moments, to somehow have the warping, unbearable parts of my life dissolved, would leave me a different creature. I realized there were aspects of me which I actually treasured. I didn't possess the wisdom to know what would stay, what would go, IF it had been possible to undo what already was, kind of a one-woman time travel conundrum. Which left only one choice: repair what was still fixable, modify or alter the seriously wrecked bits into something that will work, keep moving forward.
(An aside: In the Los Angeles Times of Tuesday, June 16 there was a front page story headlined "Cars in Ghana can't be totaled," which tells of the Odawana neighborhood of Accra in which no car has ever been seen as too broken to be fixed. The writer describes the area, saying "(it) teems with industry and purpose." Writer Robyn Dixon adds, "nothing is ever useless junk.")
Reclamation, restoration, redemption - favored themes in pictures and stories, the pick-and-shovel work of earthly incarnations and Divine intervention. The words mark the difference between a good life and something which doesn't exist. Pain in all its costumes is a constant guest in our spare rooms; in small quarters it sleeps on the couch and leaves its stuff everywhere. And still life is good. In lieu of literal restoration, meaning all those whom we lost to the darkness are among us again with buoyant spirits and anxieties forgotten, our best plan is to celebrate resilience, grace and a grand benevolence that has never given up on any of us. One day, like the cars in Odawana, we will realize that "daredevil surgeons" have found a way to bring our crumpled pieces back to function and purpose. We will grieve, but not every moment, and less for ourselves than those for whom the journey was simply too long.