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A Real Pain in the Peace

Thoughts on meeting pain with peace.

When I was in high school, I recall being at the mall one evening. <—This is a very 80’s thing to say. I can’t exactly remember why I was there. I worked at the pet store in the mall, and it was close to the movie theaters. I was leaving one of those two places. I’ve narrowed that much down. It was late. The mall was closed or closing. I remember exactly where I was, standing in the center of this little courtyard, when a girl, one of my classmates, walked up to me. I always really liked her. She greeted me with kindness, and I bit her head off.


Well, to absolutely no fault of her own, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A boy had just hurt me. We had an argument, and so, instead of offering the arrows to the said boy, I saved them and shot them off to the first person who had the misfortune to come in contact with me. I felt terrible, but I never fixed it. Instead of going to her and explaining or at the very least apologizing, I avoided her. Maybe she avoided me too, and who could blame her?

The funny thing is, all these years later, I still recall hurting her vividly, although the rest of the story has faded away. I can’t remember the boy. I can’t remember what happened with him or what he said. I can’t even recall his face. But I can recall hurting her.

Fast forward, more years than I’d like to count, and I find myself on the other side of the sharp, painful, arrows. I know someone is hurting, and all I want to do is help. To fix it. To soothe, somehow. And the hard part for me is that I can’t. I am unable to change the situation. The truth is, no one can. It’s life, and it’s something that has to happen, but it still feels like seeing someone standing in the middle of a train track, and you want to help pull them off. But the train crash has to happen and I have to watch it happen. And I understand that the anger pointed at me for a time is also to no fault of my own.

That’s a tricky part that I keep reminding myself. This has nothing to do with me.

How easy is it to love people when everything is going right? But, what about when it goes wrong?

My gut reaction to the anger is anger back. How dare they? My ego says. But consciousness and awareness say something else. It says not to meet anger with anger because the vicious cycle begins. They’re mad. Then we’re mad. Then they’re mad because we’re mad, and we get even madder. Someone ends up kicking the cat. Then the cat’s mad. The whole thing gets out of control! (I kid, no one kicked the cat. Then the gloves would come off. Or the cat would murder me in my sleep, which he may be planning to do anyway.)

Thich Nhat Hanh says “The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides.”

And around it goes!

He also writes this.

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

Choosing to express love and understanding to a person lashing out at you is an answer I don’t think many people want to hear. I don’t think I did. Instead, I tried to find an article with some real zingers so I could be ready and armed for the return fire when it happens again.

But this requires something else—a much higher level of love. I carefully choose not to participate in an escalating cycle of anger. I must take it to a whole other level and not try to fix or change the situation but meet it head-on with love and understanding.

I’m sorry you are going through this. I hear you. I understand you are in pain. 

I choose to rise. Albeit with my typical uncoordinated efforts. (I tend to get it right in the end.) And I decide to meet pain with peace. I can’t give answers or help, but I can provide peace.

And for my high school friend, wherever you are, I hope your life has been blessed and wonderful. And from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry for lashing out at you when you didn’t deserve it. And I hope your cat was okay when you got home.

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