Paperwork: If it’s hard to forget pain, then what about happiness?

Lonny Cain

“No pain. No gain.”

I’ve mumbled that little mantra more than once ... while on the treadmill or hiking a rocky, steep hill. Or sometimes, just rolling out of bed.

Those words tend to burn a little as you get older, but the message can set the pace for any age when faced with a painful task.

We’ve all heard the chant, which could be framed and hanging on every physical therapy unit: “You can do this! One more step. No pain. No gain.”

I’m using that word “pain” a bit loosely. I learned long ago that pain vibrates along a wide spectrum that’s easy to ignore. My world can revolve around a painful splinter in my finger until it’s removed. It’s nothing compared to a broken bone or worse, but the pain that matters the most is the one I’m dealing with right now.

That’s the thing about pain. At least for me. Whatever the number (1 to 10?), it gets all my attention and a desire for immediate remedy. Although many others have it much worse than I do.

Anyway, enough about my wimpy and selfish reaction to pain. What’s more interesting is how pain fits into our life. Perhaps it’s more important than we realize.

This train of thought was triggered by a simple quote that was shared online. The quote comes from novelist Chuck Palahniuk who was reflecting on memory.

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness,” he wrote. “We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.”

So much is packed into those three short sentences. He has underlined how our lives become tethered to painful experiences. They seem easier to remember, especially when there is a surgery scar as a telling reminder.

The author then points out that happiness doesn’t bring the same lasting intensity as pain. It doesn’t leave a visible mark.

I have lasting good memories, but I see his point. It is easier to point to painful moments in our past than the many little bits of happiness that make us smile or feel good each day. I think I lean too often towards the negative when being more positive would make me and those around me feel much better.

Like the author said, perhaps I have learned little from the peaceful moments in my life.

Pain, of course, has purpose. It’s our built-in warning system. It teaches the body and brain that fingers don’t belong in flames or boiling water and sharp edges can slice and shoes provide more than comfort. Stuff like that is pretty basic, yes? Pain teaches us to avoid the ouch.

But it’s interesting how we do embrace pain as part of the journey and even encourage it. (Say it: “No pain. No gain.”)

I’m thinking now about that miracle of life, the birth of a baby, a beautiful experience that includes rolling bursts of unbelievable pain for the mother. I know this can vary but no one ever depicts birth as a simple tummy ache.

This leaves me wondering about the baby – being squeezed into a world of oxygen, noise and bright lights. Painful? Traumatic? I don’t know but certainly all the senses are kicked into high gear.

If breathing life begins with pain, one could argue there’s plenty of gain.

The glow that comes after between mother and child has been well-recorded over time. At least that’s the norm and the expectation. And mothers will do it again.

Because there is so much gain whenever pain and joy embrace.

• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His Paperwork email is Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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