Monday, August 18, 2014

The Answer I Have (#icebucketchallenge)

I was invited by my friend to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The deal is, once nominated, you either pour a bucket of ice water over your head within 24 hours or you make a donation to the ALS Association ( to help fund their research to fight Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gherig's disease or ALS). If you didn't already know, ALS is a progressive and currently incurable neurologic disease that leaves its victims immobile and helpless before it kills them.

Early in the evening, while trying to catch up on my journal, I wrote this:

Terrible world events lately, A young man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by police - he was unarmed and running away and still the police officer shot him to death. That makes 4 unarmed black men this month killed by police officers which is so sickening. Then the police turned on the protestors who were supporting Mr. Brown's family. Tear gas and rubber bullets and tanks in the streets; it's insane. Isn't this America? Lots of talk about racism which is so real still. I hope something good comes out of it, like maybe people recognizing that racism is actually still a problem right along with misogyny and homophobia and abuse. ISIS (Islamic State Iraq and Syria) is murdering people in Iraq, executing Christians and the Yazidi people - the news had stories about crucifixions and beheadings. The U.S. is bombing Iraq again. Israel and Hamas are bombing each other. Robin Williams, the actor who played the Genie in Aladdin and many other amazing roles including the teacher in Dead Poet Society which climaxed in a teen suicide, killed himself. The Ukraine is completely unstable with war going on between rebels probably backed by Russia and the Ukrainian government. A plane was shot down over the Ukraine that was carrying scientists and researchers to a conference on AIDS - I think that the target was random, an act of terrorism, but so much more bitter to have people killed whose life work was curing others. There is an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. There are still thousands of immigrant children coming over the southern border of the US without parents because of danger and unrest in Central America. I don't even know what else. All the same old problems of poverty and hunger and climate change and violence and cruelty and disease. Lord, have mercy on us. Help us, please help us. 

Last week I had a conversation with a patient, which is a conversation that I've had with many people over the years. How do you stand the pain? When the world is so bad, when people suffer so much, how can you stand it? I don't really have a good answer to that question, just like I don't have good answers for all of the problems above. I wish I had a magic, perfect answer to that question. I wish I could take away all the pain, because, really, I think that is the subtext of that particular conversation. We all wish for the pain to be dealt with, for the world to be made perfect for all of us. And oh, how I long for that. But it is not what I can offer.

The answer I have is this. You can't make it not hurt. There is just no way to block out the pain, and when you try all that happens is you block out the good stuff like love and fun and joy and then you are lonely and stuck and you are in pain anyway. Trying to make things not hurt is a losing battle, a rigged game. So, I just let it hurt. I cry, I scream, I write, I yell at G-D and then I pray for help and mercy. I let the pain come and then I let it go. Not gone, more like waves that wash over me and recede. Pain is a fact of life, so another wave is always coming. Sometimes thick and fast in a storm and sometimes at long, slow intervals when all is peaceful, but every wave that comes will eventually go. And when the wave of pain has dropped back enough I get busy.

I work. I give. I write. I pray. I fight the battles that I can fight and I hope that each person I help and touch will be able to help a few more people who will then go on to help a few more people; a chain reaction of love and goodness. And then I rest. I'm on vacation this week with my family. We are spending a week together and it is wonderful. There is a part of me that spoke up as I wrote that sentence saying "you should feel bad, writing that, having fun when so much in the world is so broken and painful, when so many people are suffering. How dare you?" And then a wiser part of me spoke up and said "No. If you are sad and exhausted, how does that help lessen anyone else's suffering? Your misery won't alleviate the world's pain, but your joy might. Stay strong so you can stay on the front lines of your particular battles."

Which brings me back to my friend's invitation. I went ahead and donated to the ALS Association this evening, to help them fight the battle they have chosen. I'll keep on fighting on my part of the line too, giving and praying and working and writing as well as I can. And tomorrow I might see if I can scrounge up a bucket of ice water to dump on my head. I know the silliness of me soaking myself on purpose would delight my daughter and make my family laugh. A little joy in the name of a good cause seems like the right idea.