Thursday, January 27, 2005

Tell me where it hurts

My daughter told me about an article she read in People magazine. (Sorry, it doesn't seem to be posted online.) It was a feature about a young girl with an autoimmune disorder that prevents her from being able to feel pain of any kind.

Perhaps like you, my first reaction was "Hey, that would be great." Then she told me more of the story.

This child has no way of knowing if she's been injured. Infections cause her no discomfort. She will never learn to instinctively shy away from physical danger because she's unaware of physical harm. Her teacher has to examine her carefully after every recess period, and the school nurse checks her for scrapes, cuts or bruises before she goes home each afternoon. She will never feel the abrasion of a piece of sand in her eye, and she continually chews her tongue and cheeks because she's never trained them to stay out of the way of her teeth. Individuals with this disorder frequently die or are permanently disabled at a relatively young age because they will unknowingly hike on a broken ankle or miss a ruptured appendix. Her parents, while wanting her to have a full and happy life, need to guard her like a proverbial hawk.

Okay, who out there would have enthusiastically seconded a motion to thank God profusely that we experience pain? Not I. I dislike pain for myself and hate it when I can't relieve it in others. My house is littered with Tylenol bottles just in case I feel a twinge. But pain, I now realize, has been God's way of safeguarding me from harm.

So what about emotional pain? What might I be like if I never felt regret or shame about my behavior? How could I experience compassion if I had no idea of the agonies of grief and loneliness? Would I step away from my sins if I didn't know the pain of being sinned against? My answer is, "Probably not."

There is a mental condition called "sociopathic personality disorder" sufferers of which seem to have no awareness of -- and certainly no care for -- the consequences of their actions on others. They feel no one's pain. There is no irritating twinge that might steer them away from considering only themselves. They are, perforce, among the most truly isolated of men. So does our experience of pain bring us together? Although I prefer to "rejoice with those who rejoice," perhaps "weeping with those who weep" is among the most precious gifts our heavenly Father has ever bestowed on us.


N.B. My wonderful Thunderbird-driving uncle with the big nose and big cackly laugh died today. Please pray for the repose of the soul of Joseph Kanfoush and that God comfort his family.


Julie D. said...

I'll be praying for your uncle.

I know a family with a child who exhibited tendencies toward that personality disorder ... who knows why or what the condition really was ... it drove her mother to distraction, also my daughter Hannah whose friend this girl was. Now that she is in high school she seems to have some understanding of how to empathize with others but at such a cost on the parents' part ... and I am not sure how fully she understands what others feel, but she is coming along.

Good points in this post...

Therese Z said...

My morning Mass tomorrow will be for your uncle and your family.

Interesting post. What is the process of learning to be kind and gentle? Is it first the identification of your own pain and not wanting others to be hurt by you? Or is it in fear of punishment by authority if we mistreat others?

To extrapolate wildly (step back, please), and borrowing the old Act of Contrition, do we detest sin because of God's just punishment or because it offends (hurts) Him?

Julie D. said...

That comment about detesting sin is a good point too. It makes me think of a prayer that a friend told me and that I use a lot, "Make me love what you love, Jesus, and detest what you detest."



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