Now that’s a word I despise.
Over the years, during numerous times of personal distress, I’ve heard the same, mundane, uninvited advice:
“One day, the pain may be useful to you.”
My reply to this ridiculous guidance? BS! How could pain ever be useful?
Clearly, I understood the definition of the word. In fact, I looked it up to confirm that I had the exact meaning down pat:
Useful: being of service; serving some purpose; advantageous, helpful, or of good effect.
Pain? Useful? What a load of crap. Pain could never serve a purpose.
Then my perspective began to change.
In the year 2000, I met my friend Jillian. Unlike me, she didn’t make unrecoverable, painful mistakes or angry, reckless choices. Instead of her pain being self-inflicted, it unexpectedly blindsided her – more than once.
At the time, Jillian was in love. Madly, in love.
She talked about Shane non-stop. In fact, I was sick of hearing all about their silly love stories – all day, every day. At the same time, however, I was secretly jealous. I had no doubt that all her white-picket dreams would come true. Eventually, however, we lost touch, moved on, and got new jobs. Meanwhile, I never doubted Jillian would realize all her dreams.
We reconnected on Facebook a few years ago – she got married, had a couple of kids, and had a convenient job working from home. On the surface, her life appeared as perfect as she imagined.
Then she told me what happened.
“I knew something was different about Kaylee since she was a newborn, but I couldn’t describe it. By the time she was a year old, she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus and had a shunt put in her head to drain the fluid. After, she developed seizures and was diagnosed with autism. I loved her anyway, so now things just were going to be more complicated.
She’s almost fifteen now, but she’s not your typical teenager. I dress, bathe and feed her every day. During the week, I spend four hours round trip to drive her to a special school and hope she doesn’t have a meltdown along the way.”
As she was speaking, I began to feel her pain, but I didn’t say a thing. Instead, I listened.
“After school, I immediately clock in at work. I typically work until 12:30 am. During my shift, I get interrupted to either calm Kaylee down, get her snacks, make her brother dinner, give Kaylee her meds, etc. And because I get paid by production, it really screws up my pay. After work, I take a shower, dry my hair, clean up the kitchen, etc., go to bed at about 2:00 am. Then it starts all over again at 6:00 the next morning.”
“Doesn’t Shane help?” I asked.
“Shane is dead. I found his body one morning with a suicide note. He’s been gone since 2008.”
I immediately thought of that old familiar phrase of advice. You know the one. But no, no way could I say it out loud. Not this time.
We talked for a long time. We talked a lot about her hardships, her difficulties, and her struggles. We talked about her financial troubles and her daily challenges.
“I have no social life. Taking care of Kaylee is my full-time job. And then I have a full-time job on top of that. The only time I get to myself is a few hours of sleep each night. Occasionally, my parents will take Kaylee, but she’s not their responsibility.”
I thought about Jillian a lot since the day we talked. I still do. I think about her when my stepdaughter acts up.I think about her when I have a bad day at work. I think about her when I argue about petty things with my wife.
I soon realized that all my trials are temporary and essentially meaningless, while Jillian’s trials are lifelong and permanent. Because I quickly become anxious about my trivial complaints, I typically give up or give in rather than wrestle with them.
Jillian never quits.
A few days ago, Jillian told me that she views her life as one huge train wreck.
I disagree. Sure, she’s experienced life-changing events that none of us would want to experience. However, I realized that I don’t have to give her that advice I know so well.
As it stands, Jillian’s pain is already useful.
She is “being of service; serving some purpose; advantageous, helpful, or of good effect.”
She is a proven super mom that loves her daughter unconditionally.
She is a brave survivor of an unimaginable tragedy.
She is a fierce financial provider.
She is an inspiration to me.
That defines useful in my book.
Her pain put my years of unrecoverable mistakes and reckless choices in perspective, although I still don’t really understand how my self-inflicted pain can be useful to me.
And then she said it.
“One day, Dave, the pain may be useful to you.”
And you know what?
I believe her.