Recently, I experienced some nerve damage that threatened my livelihood.
A trifling thing like a tingly pinky finger may not seem much of a threat; to a writer, it was existential.
Bad typing habits and slouching over a desk for ten hours a day for seven years had taken their toll.
The left hand was colder; the left side of it numb. Every time my pinky rapped against the keys, jangling pins and needles would fizzle up to my elbow.
It was clear that unless something changed, this problem was only going to get worse.
Not writing wasn’t an option. That would mean Death.
The only thing to do was to learn how to write. Again.
The first week of writing with a new keyboard layout was painfully slow. The second was pretty rough too.
Going from typing as fast as you can think to 15 words a minute is like running backward on one leg.
But it got easier, as all trials do.
And that suffering now will make it easier later too — hopefully, until all my bones grind to a halt.
If you’ve never heard of David Goggins, whip out your dictionary and look up the word “indomitable,” and you’ll find a picture of him.
David is the guy that gets back up.
He completed the infamous SEAL “Hell Week” training twice. Then he completed Ranger and Air Force training, too, literally for the hell of it.
He’s run over 60 ultra-marathons and triathlons and broke a world record with 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours.
My record is eight pull-ups in 3 minutes.
He once finished a 150-mile relay race designed for four BY HIMSELF on a broken ankle.
What keeps David going beyond limits and then much, much further?
David runs on pain.
The story of his childhood is heartbreaking. But he crushed that hurt into a fuel cell that drove him to greatness.
In his words, “When we transcend what we once thought possible, your light enables people to see the contours of their own prison; their self-limitations.”
David runs 100 miles because he can.
But he can run 100-miles because he turned his pain to gain.
It’s easy to forget that nothing is real until we attach words to it, even feelings.
A coffee table is a coffee table. And a stubbed toe is just something that happens when you have toes. This much is obvious to anyone with a coffee table or a toe.
However, in the heat of the moment, that stubbed toe becomes domestic terrorism and that coffee table a vicious assailant in your home.
And we curse that ungrateful, dumb hunk of wood most righteously.
But it would be weird if, after stubbing our toe, we took an axe to that loathsome lumber, ground it to sawdust, and then went to the neighbour’s house to continue the table-cide.
Emotions are there to guide us, to warn us, and to heal us, but if we took them at face value, we’d live in a pretty barren and boring world.
We can stub a toe on pretty much anything, but only you get to decide how long it hurts.
Few things make much sense about Life but here is something that does.
This one makes so much sense that it’s written in every holy book — and a great deal of not-so-holy books too. It’s in thousands upon thousands of songs, stories, poems, prayers, and proverbs.
It explains everything from the opioid crisis and the Palestinian conflict to Mother Theresa. And it’s so ubiquitous and enduring because it’s true.
The words might be different but the sentiment is always the same:
Hurt people hurt people. Happy people help people.
That’s not woo-woo. It’s science.
That one idea can save a lot of suffering, so I try to keep it with me.
Once upon a beach, a girl with one eye said something about pain that still rings in my ears today.
She’d been flung off a speeding motorcycle and had faceplanted a tree stump. It was a miracle she’d survived. The impact took out half her skull, and I could still feel the steel plates in the back of her head.
Typically insensitive, I asked how she’d dealt with losing half her face at sixteen. She said,
“The worst thing that’s ever happened to me is the same as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. You just get on with it.”
It wasn’t until many years later that I understood.
There isn’t a human alive that hasn’t suffered. And anyone’s hurt is just as valid as anyone else’s.
We might not be equal in wealth or status, but we’re equal in our experience of suffering. Our individual experiences of pain might be different, but we all share in our knowledge of it.
We all share in our trauma, one way or another.
That’s just what it means to be human.
Children hate the taste of some damn tasty treats like truffles, coffee, wine, beer, tea, dark chocolate, whiskey and that stanky blue cheese.
We say that’s because their taste buds ‘haven’t matured,’ and as a child, I often wondered what that meant. What does it mean to ‘mature?’
As an adult who can chomp through a wheel of stilton faster than you can say, ‘pour me another scotch,’ I’ve come to believe that you must suffer a little before you can enjoy blue cheese.
Children don’t appreciate these flavours because they haven’t learnt that Good needs Bad. They’re too young to know that enjoying delicacies takes effort, and time, and suffering.
Like Life, you often have to get through an initial bitter shock and salty tang before you get to the creamy goodness. It takes work to appreciate many delicacies!
Maybe blue cheese only tastes good when you’ve lived a little; when you’ve cried, when you’ve tried and failed, fought regret — and learnt to put up with a bit of suffering to get something you can enjoy forever.