“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
– Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts, The Princess Bride
The exact circumstances surrounding this quote are slightly complicated and, I think, actually a little distracting from the point it makes. Suffice to say it is said in a moment of heat, as a couple argues about the past and the pain it holds for each of them. They dig through it and uncover a more hopeful future, like the miner who strikes gold.
Something about that has stayed with me since childhood.
There is a good deal of truth to what Westley says. No one, no matter their circumstances and social standing, experiences pain. Hunger and thirst, sorrow and loss, anxiety and fear, these are part of living. The stress of unrelenting physical agonies, the crushing pressure of financial burdens, the unbearable weight of despair, the screaming emptiness of a life bereft of love and joy, these are each pains which not everyone feels, but we all know that they hurt. Minutes, days, years, and lifetimes can feel so long as we become more and more weary of the world and of our place in it. We probably can’t help, on some level, wanting things to be better, easier, and less painful.
That’s where the dangerous ones come in. They knock on our doors, speak at our gatherings, talk to us through the radio, the TV, the computer screen. They’re all smiles and words, so many words that take so much time, demand so much attention, and mean so very little. They promise us an end to pain if we buy what they sell, if we do what they say, if we give them what they want of us. They get us angry, they get us sad, they get us excited… and then they get us going in the direction they want us to go. They point a finger of blame for all the world’s woes at “the enemy,” which is anyone but themselves, and anyone but us, and anything but the nature of life itself. They tell us that everything can be made better if we just get rid of “the enemy,” the people who surely aren’t real people, because they make different decisions, they have different beliefs, they do, and say, and behave differently. They have to go, we are told. Buy this snake oil, it’ll heal your stomach, and buy this hatred, it’ll heal your life. No more pain.
But life is pain.
Life is skinning your knee as you play with the other kids. Life is soaking each other with water balloons on a hot summer day. Life is burning your tongue because you ate your mother’s cooking too fast. Life is pricking your fingers on the roses in your garden. Life is getting sunburned as you hike on a glacier in Alaska, or getting runny noses as you play on the playground in winter. Life is aching in your bones as hormones kick in and make you grow. Life is working so hard you get blisters, bad backs, and bad knees. Life is the heartbreak of first and second and third loves which all fail. Life is losing a grandparent to Alzheimer’s, a parent to a drunk driver, a sibling to a war, a friend to suicide, a spouse to cancer, a child to a careless accident, a pet to a shorter lifespan.
Life is the scars we collect on our body and on our soul.
There is no escaping that. No fixing it. No blaming everyone else for it. No making it better by buying into a false promise.
But there is another side.
Life is pain… but that’s not all life is.
Life is also the laughter of children in the yard, the awkwardness of teenagers on their first dates, the selfless love of service to our neighbors, the loyalty of comrades and friends, the commitment of marriage, the joy of family, the cherishing of our time together, the wisdom of our experienced elders, the hopes we have for the future, and the legacy we leave behind for future generations.
That, too, is life.
And I don’t think it needs a terrible amount of fixing.