REFLECTIONS ON FAITH FOR THE YEARS OF WINTER…
PLAYING WITH PAIN 6=15=17
I was once a professional janitor. I was not a Fellow of the AMA [American Maintenance Assn.] or anything like that, but I got paid, and that’s what separates amateurs from professionals. That’s true in all of The Four Cornerstones of Life–sex, education, religion, and sports.
It’s true especially in sports, which is the main cornerstone and only metaphor of contemporary life, even for people who hate sports and have no idea it is now our only metaphor for life.
In sports, if you’re paid, if you’re a pro, you’re expected to “play with pain.” That’s the highest accolade a sports commentator can give: “He (or she) is a real pro. Plays with pain.” If you’re paid, you’re expected to suck it up and go out and give it your best shot, even if it hurts, without whining about the pain. Pain is an excuse only for amateurs.
I mention this because old people are pros, too. We’re paid, often by the government, sometimes by former employers, who pay us now to stay away. Being old is our profession. If you’re old, pain is pretty much a given.
Being pros, old pros, we’re expected to “play with pain.” That means we do the best we can to help our team, even though we’re hurting. Our team is family and friends and community and world. By playing with pain, we don’t let our pains get in the way of our team’s victory. If our team members have to spend too much time taking care of us, instead of fighting the forces that try to destroy our family and friends and community and world, we are not being good old pros.
Some of us don’t recognize the difference between playing with pain and just being a pain. We think we’re old in order to inflict pain, not to play with it. We don’t suck it up; we stick it out, where everyone can see it.
We have a friend who was gracious enough to let her father come to live with her in his last days, even though he had caused her and the rest of the family nothing but trouble all his life. He was in pain, but made no attempt to deal with it himself. Instead he demanded that his daughter give him twenty-four hour attention. That kind of old person thinks his or her pain is an excuse to make life miserable for everyone else. Misery loves company, it is said, and they’re out to prove it, by making everyone else as miserable as they are. Pain is their excuse for refusing to “play,” for refusing to do their part for the team
Simply refusing to accept help, however, is not being a pro. Some of us play with pain so well that we don’t get the help we need when we need it and we end up being more of a pain, to ourselves and to others, than if we’d gone to the trainer when the pain first hit and got that charley horse rubbed out instead of letting it become a full-blown muscle tear.
Some of us play with pain so well that we end up all alone, just whacking the ball up against a brick wall instead of across the net so other folks can hit it back and keep the game going.
There is no simple formula for being an old pro, a pro at being old. Part of it is taking the help we need when we need it; that’s better in the long run for everyone. Most of being a good old pro, though, is knowing that our team is more likely to win if we spend our energy cheering our teammates instead of complaining about our pains.