For my entire life, I've gotten minor aphthous ulcers (also known as canker sores) in my mouth. No one knows what causes them; they're not a herpes strain or any other kind of recognizable infection or disease. They just show up periodically (generally more frequently in times of stress) and there's no way to treat them, so I ignore them and they go away after a while. They're painful, but after all these years I've learned to treat them as minor inconveniences and just get on with my life.
Behold. I have an ouchie.
HOWEVER, a few years back, I got a MAJOR aphthous ulcer. It's the same as a minor ulcer, with a few tiiiiiiiny differences. See, the minor ulcers are generally about 2 to 3 mm in diameter, and they heal in 7 to 10 days. They're not super deep and they don't scar when they heal. Major ulcers, on the other hand, are greater than 10 mm in diameter, and they're deeper. Because of this they generally take 20 to 30 days to heal, and can leave scars.
And that, my friends, is what they look like.
And holy jeezum crow, do they hurt.
Anyway, I'm on my way to getting a minor ulcer this morning. I can feel the damn thing starting, and there's NOTHING I can do about it, except sigh and realize that everything relating to my mouth is gonna hurt for the next week or so. What's worse than that, though, is the little knot of fear in my stomach. See, ever since I spent a week eating liquid meals and not talking because it was too damn painful, I've been afraid of getting another of these bad boys. It's not a mind-numbing, can't-live-my-life kind of afraid, just a consistent, low-grade fear that spikes when I feel a minor ulcer coming on. I'm always worried that this time it's going to blow out, and instead of those minor irritants I'm blasé about handling, it's going to become that horrible, incredibly painful experience that I really never want to have again.
In this, it is joined by a host of other painful experiences that I have accumulated throughout my life. I'm not unique in that--the Princess Bride knew what it was talking about. Life is pain. For all of us. It's also joy and pleasure and grief and bewilderment and struggle and delight, and while minor instances of each of these things is an almost daily occurrence, major instances leave a long lasting imprint that affect us always. The joys and pleasures give us hope--hope that every day could blossom into an unexpected delight. But the grief and pain affect us just as strongly--perhaps even more so--to the point where none of us live our lives completely without fear. A small pain may, after all, grow into a large and debilitating one, that leaves us deeply scarred, if not permanently broken.
Or, if not broken, at the very least forever changed.
Yesterday on Facebook a friend of mine asked for a pep talk. This is what I responded with:
"People are always talking about being strong in the face of adversity. I think they have it wrong. I think the most complete, most whole, most enlightened individuals understand that we are all fragile, and that fragility will not kill us. That we don't have to be strong or tough when we are feeling overwhelmed. That, in fact, it's okay to fall apart, because that is the process of life, and tomorrow we will pick up our pieces and carry on."
I think the idea that fragility will not kill us--that pain and all its harmful affects may break us, but that being broken is the essence of life, and nothing to fear in and of itself--is something that I am only slowly coming to understand. It's one thing to say it, it's another thing to accept it.
But hey, I have time. And this is what I came here to do.