Understanding Pain’s Lessons

I talk to pretty much everybody. Starting conversations with strangers is my normal modus operandi. I mean, why stand in a line mute, an island unto myself, when I can have a perfectly lovely conversation with somebody I haven’t yet met?

And I don’t talk about the weather. I talk about life. My life. Their life.

Sometimes, store clerks think I’m simply hanging out, chatting with a friend, and bypass me to wait on the next person in line. Takes about thirty seconds–maybe less–to reach BFF status, at least by appearance.

And sometimes, it seems, I’m the right person at the right time, sent to heal wounds.

So there I was in Home Depot, checking out the caulk. As I read labels extolling the virtues of each particular type of caulk, I heard a young child’s voice behind me, firmly announcing the day’s schedule to whomever was with her.

Kids always get my immediate, delighted attention, so I turned to see a young father, clearly ga-ga over his little girl.

What better time to start a conversation?

I allowed that it certainly helped to have such an excellent assistant handling the schedule. He beamed.

“How old is your daughter?”

Smiling at her, he replied, “She’s three.”

“Oh! My kids just adopted a three-year-old daughter from the Congo.”

Turning to her, I added, “I have a granddaughter just your age!”

A kaleidoscope of emotions spasmed across the man’s face. I had hit a very tender nerve.

Both he and his wife had been adopted. His wife joined a wonderfully nurturing adoptive family early on. His adoption, on the other hand, put him in a punitive family–and that only after years of turmoil in difficult foster homes.

I apologized for all he had been through. I had no part of what had happened to him, but somebody had to express sorrow about his years of rejection. Why not me? So I apologized a couple more times.

He thanked me for my concern, but I clearly hadn’t made a dent in his pain.

“You have to let go of the pain, you know,” I persisted.


“By learning the lessons in it.”

And I told him the story of how I learned the lesson that when somebody rejected me, it wasn’t about me. I included all the gory details because identifying with my pain would, in a strange way, be a balm to his. He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t different. He was normal.

After a moment’s thought, though, he said his history offered no lessons.

“Well, it does. All pain contains at least one lesson. It might be just a small lesson, not even close to the level of hurt you experienced, but once you recognize the lesson, you’ll be able to let go of the pain. Look for the lessons. My lesson that rejection had nothing to do with me may seem small, but it’s been huge for me. Life-changing.”

He insisted his misery included no lessons.

“Well, you learned how to be a better father.”

His face brightened. Yes, he had learned the importance of being a good father. And he loved being a daddy.

“And you learned how to be a better husband.”

He demurred, but with a smile.

“Well, you can work on that.”

At that, he laughed out loud. I could see tiny specks of light piercing his hurt.

I repeated my instruction to look for the lessons, and we parted.

Anybody can let go of pain once they learn the lessons in it. Even small lessons give meaning to suffering, and once we know our pain had meaning, we can move past it.

Check out Bette Dowdell’s portfolios of motivational quotes at http://QuickTakesOnLife.com.

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