Thoughts on Pain (from a Wizard)

I’ve been binging paperbacks hard this year, and a fair amount of those have been The Dresden Files series. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a series of novels by Jim Butcher centering around a private investigator in Chicago who’s a wizard. Or it might be more appropriate to say he’s a wizard who works as a private investigator. Either way, it’s great. I had friends recommending the series to me for years until one of them just bought me the first five (there are seventeen so far) and I’ve been cramming them almost constantly ever since.

They’re fun reads.

But you ever have one of those moments with a book that sits you down? That can either mean sits you down on your ass because it took you off your metaphorical feet, or it could mean that it sits you down, puts a hand on your shoulder, and has a talk with you. It’s one of those moments where, for a brief minute, you set aside the story the book is telling you and audibly thank the author by their first name like you’re on that kind of basis with them.

This was one of those.

It was a perspective on life that I realized I’m going to be loosely quoting, paraphrasing, and otherwise referencing in deep talks with others for a while, if not the rest of my days on this earth. And I won’t lie, I had expected something like that to come out of ‘The Art of War,’ or ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ or ‘The Alchemist’ (which is also good), or something. Not necessarily a novel about wizards, zombies, vampires, angels, warlocks, and all the rest.

I’m going to put the excerpt here, in all its glory. It’s out of the ninth book in the series, ‘White Night,’ pg. 307-309 if you nab the edition published by ROC. (I don’t know if there are other “editions,” it just sounded fancier to say that way.)

“The wisdom, maybe, was still in process, as evidenced by her choice of first lovers, but even as an adult, I was hardly in a position to cast stones, as evidenced by my pretty much everything.

What we hadn’t known about, back then, was pain.

Sure, we’d faced some things as children that a lot of kids don’t. Sure, Justin had qualified for his Junior de Sade badge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. We still hadn’t learned, though, that growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind – graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

And if you’re very, very lucky, there are the very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last – and yet will remain with you for life.

Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.”

God. Damn.

Thanks, Jim.

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