A moth goes into a podiatrist’s office, and the podiatrist’s office says, “What's the problem?"
And the moth says, “What’s the problem? Where do I begin, man? I go to work for Gregory Illinivich, and all day long I work. Honestly doc, I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. I don’t even know if Gregory Illinivich knows. He only knows that he has power over me, and that seems to bring him happiness. But I don’t know, I wake up in a malaise, and I walk here and there... At night I... I sometimes wake up and I turn to some old lady in my bed that’s on my arm. A lady that I once loved, doc. I don’t know where to turn to. My youngest, Alexandria, she fell in the... in the cold of last year. The cold took her down, as it did many of us. And my other boy—and this is the hardest pill to swallow, doc—my other boy, Gregarro Ivinalititavich... I no longer love him. As much as it pains me to say, when I look in his eyes, all I see is the same cowardice that I... that I catch when I take a glimpse of my own face in the mirror. If only the cowardice was stronger, then perhaps... perhaps I could bring myself to reach over to that cocked and loaded gun that lays on the bedside behind me, and end this hellish facade once and for all... Doc, sometimes I feel like a spider, even though I’m a moth, just barely hanging on to my web with an everlasting fire underneath me. I’m not feeling good."
And so the doctor says, “Moth, man, you’re troubled. But you should be seeing a psychiatrist. Why on earth did you come here?”
And then the moth says, “'Cause the light was on.”
Norm Macdonald, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, S1:E56
There are times when it seems to me that all humans are in a constant state of pain. Not one we're always aware of. Just one that's always there, flowing dully through the deeper chasms carved in us by time and experience. Maybe I'm just coloring the world with my own sometimes less-than-luminous feelings, and I do suspect that's part of it, but I don't think it's all of it. Nor do I think it's necessarily a bad thing, having regular access to this unique natural resource of ours. Pain is a humbling and versatile tool. Like a Swiss Army knife for living. It's our intrinsic portal to introspection and empathy. It's what allows us to feel compassion more than disgust in the presence of human folly and failure and awfulness. It's what allows us to forgive. It gives us perspective, and even, oddly, hope, a hope that we will emerge from our pain at intervals, as we have so many times before, in our beams of bettered human light. If nothing else, our pain is what makes all our little works of art so holy and precious.
If there's meaning or beauty to be found in anything in life, I think it probably starts there, somewhere within that vague ache fluttering so persistently in all of us. Our great tragedy, perhaps, is that we so instinctively reject it. We confuse it with suffering and try to avoid it. We live too much of our lives on the run from discomfort and boredom and loneliness and uncertainty, chasing cheap dopamine; sharing, liking and tweeting the various updates to our identities. Whatever it takes to keep that vague ache of the present moment at bay, to avoid it altogether and get to the next thing, or to go back and repair all the previous things, to gather all the scattered and elusive pieces of the puzzle we woke up in and put ourselves, or at least the whole world, back together.
It's what we do. It's who we are. We who can't understand the very consciousness we inhabit. We who are so inept and yet so sure. We who are dying and being born again all the time, literally, cellularly, in every moment of every day.
One of my favorite things about my pain is how it loosens and melts in the flames of comedy. When I'm listening to good stand-up, it seems like that's all my pain ever wanted, was to be taken to this place where the darkest, harshest, most absurd aspects of living can be poked and distilled and turned into pure pleasure. That is the art. That is its magic, built by fallible fools like you and me on the bedrock of our pain. Ironically, it's this same pain, capable of such great things, that seems these days to be fueling people's oversensitivity to comedy, and to basically all forms of language, and to virtually all else. The same pain that causes us to care deeply for others appears to now be lowering our capacity for empathy, as we sacrifice our ability to forgive to the gods of groups and their approval. We seem to think that the way to rid the world of its pain is to nullify all who err, to remove them from society for their missteps, the likely manifestations of their own pain, rather than do the hard work needed for true empathy, the harder-won kind that comes from identifying with those whose actions were unfathomable to you, and maybe even repulsed you.
I think we need our pain. Perhaps more now than ever. I don't think we should avoid it or try to rid ourselves of it. It's too valuable. It's the undefeatable wellspring of our better natures, and a fundamental instrument for progress. It will, unfortunately, sometimes lead us astray. But more often than not, it will be the indistinct thread running through all of us, guiding us toward those hidden little lights of glory.
How to forgive the unforgivable? Now there is a question. Sometimes we feel the crime is such a violation, and so egregious, that it is beyond absolution – but the struggle to forgive is where it can find its true meaning. Even the attempt to move toward forgiveness allows us the opportunity to touch the borders of grace. To try is an act of resistance against the forces of malevolence – a form of defiant grace.
Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files, "Issue #58"
Underneath everything in your life, there's that thing, that empty... forever-empty... Just that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. You know, it’s down there. And sometimes when things clear away, you're not watching it, you're in your car and you start going, “Oh no, here it comes... that I’m alone..." Like it starts to visit on you. You know, just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it. And so you’re driving and then you go, "Ah-ah-ah!" That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100% of people driving are texting. And they're killing... everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own, because they don’t want to be alone for a second, because it’s so hard.
Louis C.K., Conan, S3:E139