krys méndez ramírez

Thank You, Chronic Pain

In Chronic Pain, Creative Writing, Philosophical Musings on November 22, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Since my spell of chronic pain began last year, I’ve had to come to terms with some harsh realities.

I will likely never be able to take a fast, quick run on the treadmill without wondering if my head will explode. I will likely never be able to escape from frequent medical visits to ensure that my health is “stable.” For all I know, I may never again have another alcoholic drink, hike a steep mountain, enjoy a late night party, or go on a date.

This isn’t me trying to cast an overly pessimistic spin on a day I’m supposed to be “thankful.” In fact, my sense of gratitude for life has expanded tremendously since I was hit hard by the limitations of my condition(s) and the death of my brother last year.

Yes, living with pain sucks…but it has also thrown in me new directions I would never have entertained. It has forced me to accept my humanness, to see my abilities and limitations with an entirely new pair of eyes.

I am often awed by the impressive machinery that is the human body (its complexity and self-healing capabilities) as well as by the ubiquitously enigmatic mind. I’m continuously humbled by the expansive mysteries of this Universe and the resilience of the human species.  Yes, living with pain has taught me a lot.

That said, I’ve pondered the meaning of “thankfulness” in a world that has pain and wonder if my thoughts will resonate with anyone else.

“Pain” is itself a term that can be conceptualized and packaged in many ways, but however we choose to define it, it’s clear that we live in a world incredibly damaged by pain: the pain of war, the pain of genocide, the pain of past and present, the pain of brutal conquest, slaughter, and slavery.

I can delve deeply into the histories of colonized and destroyed societies, of broken families and cultural groups, of lonely, pain-ridden martyrs. I think, for instance, of the genocidal colonization of the Americas that reduced the populations of Indigenous peoples from 70-100 million to 12 million within the first century of colonization and conquest (the 1500s).

I think of the 50 million or more Africans who were killed or forcibly removed through the slave trade during the initial centuries of Western imperial expansion in the “discovery” age.

I think of the millions of people today who contend with air bombing, displacement, and tyranny in places such as Gaza, Afghanistan, Syria, and yes, even the ever-so-powerful “Western” nations. (The United States, for instance, has the highest GDP spending on weapons of mass destruction, one of the highest-per-capita incarceration rates in the world, as well as an economic inequality index that should make us all shake our heads in exasperation. One need only look at which residents of New York City are still battling for basic necessities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy)

However, knowing the merciless violence perpetrated in our past is not enough: it is important to recognize how the pain of our ancestors continues to live with us today.

Many of us understand the role that racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and other systems of oppression play in our collective dehumanization.

However, what’s often not understood is how we perpetuate these oppressions in our daily practices. We are complacent when we are left thinking that these violent oppressions are part of a detached past of which we are not to blame (perhaps our less-informed ancestors, but not us). We are complacent when we imagine racism and sexism as “issues” that were overcome in the past–and if they still exist, it’s because of the ignorance of “others” for which we cannot be held liable.

Such moral detachment doesn’t help ameliorate the “issues”–really, the persistent violence–that we see in the world today. Whether we speak of the Black underclass or the “feminization of poverty,” whether we speak of inequitable access to quality education, jobs, and health care or the fight for political representation, the real “issue” we must confront is the historical reality of power–who has it and how it’s used.

“Privilege” talk is helpful only if it engages in a radical re-reading of how power operates in our day-to-day social world. And that means acknowledging those upon whose blood and sweat we’ve come to enjoy our material goods.

So, today, in recognizing that “Thanksgiving” is not a holiday that emerged from the “coming together” of grateful European colonizers and Indigenous Americans, I’ve decided to use this time to redefine the meaning of “thanksgiving.”

While I don’t adhere to a particular religion, I feel many wouldn’t argue with the essence of these basic points, which also befits the Buddhist practices of mindfulness and loving-kindness.

  • Expressing gratitude should not be a once-a-year practice. We should make “thanksgiving” a daily practice, which we can display by consistent kindness to others and  recognizing that not everyone shares our privileges (e.g. having a place to live, living without fear of murderous attacks of war, etc.) Their pain is our pain is the Universe’s pain.
  • Coming together with our friends and family should not necessitate a special holiday. If we’re given the time off, we should make use of it, and if it’s a “good excuse” to meet with friends and family, do so.
  • If we’re in the spirit of “giving thanks,” we should thank the people whose land we stole, the people whose labor power enabled us to have food in our refrigerators and on our plates, the animals whose lives we had to slaughter to fatten our bellies.

May peace and love reign in our hearts. May ignorance and greed not cloud our eyes to the world around us. May we overcome the pain of our past without inflicting pain on others in the present. May we have courage to live with our eyes open, and our minds and bodies ready for the revolution. 

Hasta la victoria, siempre. 

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  1. This gave me chills. I completely relate to what you’ve written in the first paragraph and you describe the feeling and emotions that I’ve had to deal with because of the chronic pain/illness so well. I’m really glad that I’ve found your blog. You are a wonderful writer!
    Take care and be well (at least as well as can be!).

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