Photo by Ken Gallager
The Way I Was

If Chronic Pain is a Journey, then Hope must be North

Photo by Ken Gallager
The Appalachian Trail in the southern Presidential Range of New Hampshire, facing south towards Mount Pierce. Photo by Ken Gallager is in the public domain.

The Appalachian Trail, a hiking path from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, over two-thousand miles long, is like chronic pain. They both go on and on until they become grueling.

Strangely, oodles of people have chosen, of their own free will, to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Their stories inspire thousands more, every year, to attempt the journey. People willingly undertake this hardship because it is well-known that long and difficult journeys lead to transformation.

There’s no doubt that going through life with chronic pain is arduous. That we didn’t choose to take this path, makes it even more wearisome. But, here we are.

We had no choice about the path we’re on, but we still do possess a free will and the power to make choices. And now, we can choose to do our utmost to make the journey transformative instead of only catastrophic.

We cannot change that there are treacherous mountains ahead. But the good news is that we are more than our material bodies. Mind and spirit can, and do, help us transcend physical reality. Nothing or no one can ever deprive us of our right or ability to travel with courage and dignity.

Of course, we will be tempted to snivel. Bad times might make us want to wallow in resentment and throw tantrums, and there will be moments when we want to quit. Then, we can curse the mountains until our wailing brings down an avalanche. Or we can decide to rise above our circumstances.

If we eat food that will energize us, get enough rest, and then trek as far as we can before we rest again, we can conquer the trail by surmounting it, one summit at a time.

Sometimes it is inspiring to be reminded of this. Some days, the last thing we want is someone else’s sanctimonious optimism. I’ve had days when an apparently problem-free person’s cheerfulness overwhelms me like cheap perfume, it’s sickening and overbearing.

Sometimes it feels so impossible to go on, that all I can manage is to curl up and weep. And sometimes that’s exactly what I do.

And then, I reorient myself, remind myself that I really want to do this–I do want to live my life, with all its goodness and even with the challenges that shape my course. Maybe it’s time to hole up in a safe shelter until the storm blows through. A long nap, a sympathetic ear, some warm understanding, a restorative cup of herbal tea–these help me renew my strength and reaffirm my resolution.

Hope is a direction, like north. It’s the way to go. On the Appalachian trail, a person doesn’t always travel due north; sometimes people even get turned around and head in the wrong direction.

I can’t always, and don’t expect to, charge through the day with my heart bubbling over with hope, singing “The Hills Are Alive with Sound of Music.” But, it’s important to know that day by day, with and against chronic pain, I can, and will choose my direction. I want the next step to take me toward hope.

And so,

 I am determined to be thankful for everything–even troubles and pains–because only the difficult times can teach me to persevere, with patience. This builds strength of character and deepens my hope. And this depth of hope cannot disappoint me, because it is the power of love working in and through me…
because, Love is Patient.
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