Pain and perspective

It’s difficult to live in a world that has decided to destroy everything that makes my life worth living. My existence over the past four years has been filled with pain so excruciating that prior to spring 2020, not only had I never before experienced such pain, but it hadn’t occurred to me that such pain was even possible. Over the past four years, I’ve worked to find some way of continuing on, some way of building a life of meaning and purpose in a society that believes I shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

Living this way is laborious, exhausting, and often demoralizing. But to some extent my efforts have been successful. I have dedicated my life to honoring the historical figures that I love. I advocate for them through my writing, which takes the form of this blog, emails to public officials, and hopefully one day a book. I keep them alive through my artwork, which I sell on my art website and at local craft fairs and festivals, through my Historical Heroes Blog, through collecting dolls and figurines depicting them, and through bringing new statues into the world. Additionally, I have tried to make my day-to-day life as rewarding as possible by eliminating unpleasant obligations and incorporating activities that bring me joy. Particularly over the past two years, these efforts have begun to pay off. Often, I do experience a sense of meaning and purpose. Often, I do feel that my life is worth living.

But not always. Sometimes the excruciating pain attacks. This might happen if a new atrocity is committed, or perhaps if I merely have a bad day. And when the excruciating pain attacks, it takes over my entire soul, so that nothing other than the pain exists. The thing about the excruciating pain is that it creates something of a catch-22. There are three theoretical ways of abating the misery, of making the situation just a tiny bit better. But the nature of the excruciating pain makes every option impossible, inappropriate, ineffective, or all of the above.

The three options are as follows:

  1. Expressing my anger and grief about the terrible thing that happened. This is certainly right, because anger and grief are the appropriate responses when a terrible thing happens. But when the agony is attacking, this can feel pointless. No words are adequate to express the full magnitude of what happened. Ranting wildly, in the strongest language imaginable, would be 100% justified but would also accomplish nothing other than making me look unhinged, which would be counterproductive with respect to my goal of advocating for the historical figures.
  2. Finding some positive aspect of the situation, or of historical figures in general. This might entail focusing on the statues that still remain, making new art depicting the historical figures, or reading about their lives. But when the agony is attacking, it feels as if everything with regards to historical figures is going badly, even if my logical brain knows that this is not 100% true. Focusing on the positive seems hollow and empty, a failure to acknowledge the full magnitude of the bad thing that happened.
  3. Ignoring the situation, and the historical figure topic entirely, and focusing on something else. This seems to be the worst of the three options. When something horrible happens to a historical figure, everything else in the world is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Thinking about, talking about, making a post about, or even caring about pets, food, sports, friends, or family, to give just a few examples, would represent a complete failure to acknowledge the badness of what has happened. Doing so would be petty, superficial, and callous.

When the excruciating pain strikes, it’s as if I am at the bottom of a pit, with no way to climb out. The walls of the pit are perfectly smooth, with no handholds, nothing to grab onto, no protruding pieces of rock on which I might be able to step. I cannot gain purchase, cannot hoist myself out. All possible ways of climbing out of the pit are closed off to me.

But over the past years, I’ve discovered that there is a fourth way out of the excruciating pain, albeit a way that I have no control over: time.

In time, the excruciating pain always subsides. Not permanently, alas, because it keeps recurring. But every time that the pain has attacked, it has eventually gone away. The agony that was nearly omnipresent from spring 2020 to summer 2022 has, since then, alternated with stretches of relatively okay days, days on which I experience a sense of meaning and purpose, and a sense that life is worth living.

I’ve gained a sense of perspective that I didn’t have when the statue genocide began. Although the excruciating pain, when it attacks, is all-consuming, I am now able to recognize, intellectually if not emotionally, that it is temporary.

While waiting for the agony to go away, I have found that the best thing to do is something productive. If the floor needs to be swept, I sweep the floor; if I haven’t exercised yet that day, I exercise; if it is nighttime, I go to bed. These things aren’t exactly fun, but they are useful. When I am in excruciating pain, I am going to be miserable no matter what I do, so I might as well do something that, once the pain subsides, I will be glad that I did.

This pain is probably something that I will need to deal with, to struggle with, to manage, for the rest of my life. It is only logical to experience agonizing and excruciating pain when people have done appallingly awful things. So I continue to fight for both myself and the historical figures. Despite the frequent setbacks and obstacles that I face, I continue to build bit by bit a life of meaning and purpose, a life that is worth living.