One of my mom’s favorite sayings is “Pain is only temporary.” Whenever she came out with this line, I, like any good daughter, rolled my eyes. But even as I was scoffing as only a teenager can and coming up with all sorts of scenarios in which pain is not, in fact, only temporary, I knew that for the situations I faced, she was right.
Now I sometimes repeat this line to myself and yesterday I sure needed it. I was cranky—very cranky. My kids have brought a terrible cold home from school and have kindly shared it with me. Although I would love nothing more than to crawl into bed with a hot cup of tea and a good book, I’m feeling very pressured by my work and can’t bring myself to take time off. Yes, I know the world won’t fall apart if I go to bed for a day, but I grew up in a house where, for reasons too complicated to go into, being sick was not a good thing, and I’ve never really developed the ability to stop what I’m doing when I’m not feeling well.
I could feel my crankiness developing into a good case of martyrdom, so I was looking forward to taking my son to choir practice as a chance to rest. We try to minimize the number of car trips we make, and unless I have an errand to run close by, I wait for my kids while they’re at their activities. I look forward to choir practice. Although the choir isn’t a religious one, they rehearse in a local church and parents are welcome to stay inside. It doesn’t seem right to sit in a pew with my laptop, so for an hour every week I relax in this peaceful place, knitting or reading or writing to a friend as I listen to the choir.
But not last night. First, I was really tense; as I worked on the purple art gallery scarf, my shoulders kept creeping up to hover around my ears. I forced them down and they crept up again. Just when I was starting to relax, my phone—which I’d forgotten to switch to silent mode—rang. Loudly! In a church! During choir practice! In my haste to dig it out of my purse and turn it off, I threw down my knitting, which, of course, caused some stitches to fall off the needle. Because it’s a drop stitch pattern in a fuzzy yarn and, I’m sure, because my head feels like it’s stuffed with newspaper and my brain is working at half-speed, it took me most of the remaining time and several rows of ripping back to set it straight. So much for peace and relaxation; my shoulders remained firmly at ear level during the entire process.
Accepting the fact that it was just one of those days, I didn’t bring my knitting to my daughter’s soccer practice later in the evening. There I wait in the car and, even when I’m at my best, knitting by the map light often results in dropped stitches and regression rather than progress. Instead, I wrote some postcards and listened to the radio and, except for spilling tea all down the front of my coat, passed the hour without mishap.
Later that night, it occurred to me how far I’ve come. Years ago, if I’d had so much trouble with a craft project, I would have thrown the whole thing across the room, swearing a blue streak, and then berated myself for messing up. I don’t do that anymore—even when I’m not in a church. And years ago, I could easily go from being sick, cranky, and martyrish to falling into a black hole of depression, where I would be stuck for days. I’m far from perfectly calm now and I still overreact sometimes, but over the years I’ve developed better coping skills. While I know that I’ve done this, the fact that I have and that they continue to improve still surprises me.
Yesterday, instead of getting mad or falling into the old black hole, I reminded myself that the things I was facing were temporary. This cold will go away. I am trying very hard to figure out new ways of scheduling my clients’ work so that I don’t feel like my to-do list is constantly following me around—and I will succeed at this, damn it, no matter how many tries it takes. I fixed my knitting. The tea didn’t stain my coat (or if it did, it doesn’t show). And I refused to take my crankiness too seriously because I knew it was due to these temporary things, not to some major problem or character flaw.
This pain is only temporary. My mom was right. But don’t tell her I said that.