I fell asleep on the floor of our family room last night, curled up right next to the couch. My exile from our matrimonial bed was not because I happened to call my wife fat or tell her that her baking tastes like charcoal; she’s not and it doesn’t and (may the record please show) I didn’t. It’s difficult to explain it, but when I have a migraine that keeps me from sleeping I often find myself wandering around in a state of restlessness, commonly collapsing in a random location that somehow feels comfortable in the moment. And then sleep finally comes. I’d be lying to you if I told you these tendencies weren’t a little strange, even too me; they’re peculiar, really. But so is pain; so is life.
Lately these peculiarities have been much more common than usual. Over the past few months I’ve had endless doctor appointments, lab tests, new prescriptions and screenings all in an attempt to find a way to control or alleviate some of the pain caused by chronic migraines. Blessedly, there has been some relief. This shouldn’t be a surprise but grace often is.
And lately it’s come in the form of rain.
“What’s the weather today?” My wife asks, as she’s getting dressed and I’m making her coffee.
“Clouds. Chance of rain.”
She rolls her eyes though I try not to let her see my smile, adding an extra pinch of sugar to her morning coffee, to help her survive the grace that’s been given to me.
Which goes to say that one of the peculiarities I’ve come to embrace has been my affinity for overcast weather. Someone who has never had a migraine cannot understand what its like to be oppressed by sunshine, for it’s rays to reach through their eye-sockets and pound itself around in your skull, like your cranium is playing racquetball with a grenade.
I often find myself listening to people daydream about their plans to move somewhere like San Diego or the Caribbean, to a locale that absorbs the sun’s rays nine days out of ten. I want to ask: “Why the hell would you do that to yourself?” But I withhold. Not because of prudence or self-control, mind you, but because the older I get the more I learn how convincing others to adopt my tastes is either fruitless or results in my ultimately getting less of them for myself. Thus, I shut up. Let them move to Florida; it’s less rain on my rainy parade here.
It’s not that I don’t sympathize. I have several friends who suffer from seasonal depression; cloud cover for them is like bright sunshine into my blood-shot eyes. And sometimes I feel like my prayers for grace compete for theirs like two friends who’ve grown up and now have young boys playing on opposing football teams; we both call the lads “winners” but reality tell us that one of them is going to walk away defeated.
And maybe grace does compete with itself. That said, I’m often reminded of what the poet Jay Parini said, reflecting on rainfall from his own window: “my thirst for something more than I can see is briefly quenched.”
To live at all is to feel pain; the tree of life has thorns on it, of this I am convinced. And after the fall those thorns grew for thousands of years till they were sharp enough to pierce the brow of our Savior before he was crucified. A crown of thorns, crown of pain, crown of life conquering death.
Which is to say that the relief of pain isn’t always grace; sometimes grace is the pain itself. And when I consider this, I see the rain as grace for everyone, not just me. Perhaps this is my way of feeling less remorse over my child wining the football match. Or, perhaps grace always is the winner. We’ve just forgotten that there’s no scoreboard, that we’re on the same team.
And this consideration also forces me to see my own pain as a richer grace, a deeper grace, than even it’s relief. If living is pain, then it is also thirst. Thirst for something more, something beyond, something for which I would not yearn if I did not thirst. And that’s a remarkable thing. For thirst must be quenched, will be quenched- if only we keep on thirsting.
And when I awoke on the floor early this morning my headache had, for the moment, abated. And today the sun came out and my wife was happy; grace was shining upon her. And I can bear it, even if my head begins to throb again. Because when grace falls, it falls on all of us, not just some.
And perhaps pain is just the eyes to see it.