Partnering with Pain

With the new film version of A Wrinkle in Time in theaters now, I remembered a Madeleine L’Engle poem about pain that gave me great comfort and tenacity in the early 1980s. Nonetheless, when I shared the poem with others, they were put off by it. But I get ahead of myself. By the late 1970s, I experienced increasing difficulty walking stairs in our split level home. This was accompanied by fatigue and tiredness. I simply chalked these symptoms up to raising our two sons, and involving myself in teaching and music at church. Since my six-month hospital stay as a four year old, I was reticent to see a doctor. Dave, the boys, and I did, however, move to a rancher in 1980, so I could avoid stairs.When I finally gave in to increasing pain and got an appointment, the doctor at Johns Hopkins told me I probably had what was then being called post-polio muscular atrophy. Medical research seemed to indicate that many polio patients started to display weakness and pain 30-35 years after the original onset of the virus. Was this new condition contagious? What were the implications for the future? What prescription could alleviate the weakness, fatigue and nagging pain? The doctors offered only this: Change your life style and get more rest.

Without the Google searches of today, information proved scarce, and what was available proved difficult to find. Who would fund research on Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) the name gaining acceptance? The Salk vaccine had been around for 25 years by 1980; polio in the United States was gone. Research dollars went to studies for cancer treatment, heart disease, and AIDS.

Besides, as an A personality type, I knew slowing down was not likely. And then someone gave me a tiny book of L’Engle’s poems, The Weather of the Heart.

The following poem gave me a plan, a way to work with, not against, the changes my body experienced. In whatever trials and pain you find yourself, I hope L’Engle’s poem will minister to you, help you look outside your circumstances, and with God’s grace, find joy.

Pain is a partner I did not request; This is a dance I did not ask to join; whirled in a waltz when I would stop and rest, Jolted and jerked, I ache in bone and loin. Pain strives to hold me close in his embrace; If I resist and try to pull away His grasp grows tighter; closer comes his face; hotter his breath. If he is here to stay Then must I learn to dance this painful dance, Move to its rhythm, keep my lagging feet In time with his. Thus have I a chance To work with pain, and so may pain defeat. Pain is my partner. If I dance with pain then may this wedlock be not loss but gain.

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