Note: There are cuss words in this article. This article has been rated PG by me, just so you're aware.
I want to think about how funny Robin Williams was. All in all, I’d rather not reflect on the pain that must have led him to take his own life.
There’s a human tendency to deflect from that which is just too painful to dwell upon. We are experts at distraction.
I can scroll through Youtube videos of Robin Williams’ funniest moments all day long and laugh and laugh and laugh. And it saves me from imagining the scene described in the coroner’s report.
There’s a similar thing happening around the death of Michael Brown. I can watch coverage of marches and read reports of violence and looting in Ferguson, clicking my tongue and shaking my head and muttering, “Shame, shame, shame.” And it saves me from reflecting on the reality of a human life taken too soon, the pain of parents, family, and friends.
We do it all the time. In Gaza, I can explore the geo-political implications of a two-state solution and read about the history of Islam … so I won’t have to think about children dying when bombs fall on school buildings. In Ukraine, I can bad mouth Putin all day, which of course keeps me from thinking about planes filled with people being shot out of the sky. On the border, if I grandstand and play the political game enough, I don’t have to acknowledge that they are real live children who are probably really scared and just want someone to take care of them. And so it goes.
Are we so afraid of pain? Must we always retreat, escape, withdraw?
In a conversation with a friend recently, I remarked that our prayer life would be much more vivid if cuss words were allowed.
What if I could stand before the congregation, lift my middle fingers to the ceiling, and on behalf of the people just shout out “God Damn It!” at the top of my lungs? Or if I could lament in prayer with a guy whose life has gone to shit and actually say, “Dear God, Joe’s life has really gone to shit.” What if I could hit pain right in the face with a liturgically appropriate “Fuck you!”
We should not be afraid of pain and seek distraction from it. Pain is real. Pain reminds you you are alive. Pain doesn’t go away if you ignore it – it festers. Pain needs to be cussed at. Pain needs to be grabbed by the throat and shaken. Pain needs to be crushed.
And please hear this: Pain needs to be shared. “I don’t want to be a burden.” Never mind that, you can’t kick pain’s ass all by yourself, fool. You need me. “But it’s not your …” No, it isn’t. But some day I’m going to need you to help me with my pain, so the opportunity for payback’s coming.
I’m not talking about momentary respite. Taking an emotional Tylenol to relieve the symptom is fine. Watch a movie, listen to a song, take a walk … all good. When you do this, you are saying, “This really hurts and I just need a break.” No, I’m talking about refusing to acknowledge the pain at all, pretending it’s not there, trying to trick yourself that you are “Just fine” when in reality, you are not.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast…” (Psalm 22:14)
There’s a lot of pain in the atmosphere these days. Please, let’s not yield power to our pain by pretending it isn’t there. Drag it up to the surface. Express it. Reveal it. Cry a lot. Cuss in your prayers. Scream and shout as necessary. Share it with someone, so that it gets scared out into the open, flushed from hiding.
When pain is uncovered it is weaker, smaller, less scary. And it becomes oh so much easier to crush.