Although pain is, for the most part, neither a pleasant nor celebrated experience, one astounding reality of our lives is that we human beings will experience and do experience pain. Meaningless pain is suffering, and suffering is designated by most of us as evil. We might wish horrible pain on those who have hurt us, but we do so because we agree that pain is bad, and because inflicting pain on others who have hurt us is what many of us mean by the concept of justice.
There are indeed certain pains which might lead to remorse, though mostly I observe in myself and those I meet, remorse is more likely in situations where we meet compassion, mercy, and love and are called into different actions and choices than those which cause suffering. That tendency suggests to me that remorse thrives in an environment of compassion, which is why I believe justice does not exist without mercy and the opportunity for repair, reconciliation, or reform - the kinds of turning and change that are both ritualized and celebrated in religious traditions around the world, and that a great many of us will have cause to personally experience in our lives, in great and small ways.
But while remorse and deprivation as part of reform and reconciliation are one form of suffering, I mostly think about suffering as pain that is excruciating and to which we have only attached the wish that it end sooner rather than later. This is the kind of pain that accompanies torture and it is the kind of pain that many ill people experience. It is the kind of pain which elicits a wish among the people who love those people, who have mercy and compassion in their hearts, a desire to end that pain. We can teach of the moral repugnance of, outlaw the practice, and hold people accountable for torture. But despite our very best efforts with medicines and creating a more equitable world where everyone can count on and receive quality medical care, there is pain that cannot be ended, maybe occluded a bit or reduced for a time, but pain which burns on through and contorts, no matter what. And until that equality is achieved everywhere, there is going to be even more of such pain for those who live without the economic or political power to the means we have to reduce suffering.
As my own body contorts and pain burns through my senses, I still have choices, once the pain has relaxed its grip enough for me to catch my breath. Like many other people who have endured and who endure great pain right now, I come back to focusing not on what the pain brings or takes away, but what compassion, care, and the ongoing rush of life bears. I am especially thankful for those who care and for the sweet and tart taste of last summer's raspberries and for the titmouse visiting the bird feeder. Turning my attention thus, the question changes from "why" to acceptance, and a little bit of my heart is renewed by dwelling in gratitude. Thankfulness does not erase the pain, but it does remind me of the blessings I still enjoy, and recall me to the reality of humanity, to all those people past and present and future, with whom we share this existence. My pain is not unique, and it is not punishment. Like Job, I will reject those ways of making meaning from this experience, for they inflict more pain.
The reality that we are beings who grow ill and die, who will experience pains large and small, is one of the reasons why I am an advocate of human rights. We cannot ensure each other a pain-free existence, but we can help each other not create a world more of suffering than there already is or that unpreventable diseases and disasters create. This reality that we are beings who grow ill and die, who experience pains sharp and sudden and cold and long burning, is the reason I choose to practice gratitude. Each of us could be lost to one another because of our own pain and sorrows, but through love and compassion, we tend one another, diminishing suffering the best we can, offering friendship and stories and the gifts we have to each other in ordinary extraordinary ways. The world can be terrible and harsh, and yet there is also great beauty, great wonder, and great joy. Thankfulness can sometimes overtake our hearts like wonder and like sorrow, but it does so more often and more easily, though the way is full of obstacles like sobbing pain, when we have chosen to practice and follow the way of gratitude.
In the middle of this very human and very common experience, after the pain abates enough to think and feel anything else all, I choose to dwell with wonder and with thankfulness. Awe and gratitude is the story I find worthy when I am content and when I am joyful, and it is the world that helps me bear up and on in pain. Choosing that practice, just like choosing mercy, or choosing steadfast love, or choosing generosity, is up to us.