Skip to main content

ON PAIN


In the movie Rocky III the eponymous protagonist faces his greatest challenge yet, the brutish force of nature known as Clubber Lang. Played by the mohawked Mr. T of A-Team fame (though the hit series came after the blockbuster boxing film), Clubber is asked just before the fight against champion Rocky Balboa to give his prediction of the outcome. A man of few words if many grunts, he sneers at the camera and with spine-tingling intimidation delivers his pat reply: "Pain."

One of the first things an athlete learns is to distinguish between the two types of pain. There is good pain, and there is bad pain. The former visits the competitor when in the course of your effort you reach a limit beyond which you seemingly cannot go, because your lungs burn, and your heart is about to explode, and your legs feel like leaden weights. In training athletes are taught to push beyond this limit, so that in the heat of the battle, be it bout or ballet or whatever else you do for sweat-drenched fun, you can reach new limits, set personal records, maybe even win. Contrast this with the bad pain in which you ignore the body's signals and compete longer than you should, jeopardizing your health, maybe even killing yourself. Which is what happened in the next Rocky film, when Apollo Creed, losing catastrophically to Ivan Drago, orders Rocky not to throw in the towel. Such bravado is his death sentence. The image of Apollo's dying body convulsing on the ground still gives me the heebie jeebies. 

Runners know the difference between good and bad pain just as well as boxers, though they heed it about as often, which is to say not often enough. I've run laps around the track till my lungs were scorched in an effort to set a personal best in the half marathon, which I did, though I didn't win (still, placing 8th in a field of 8000 is not bad). Each lap I ignored the pain, the monotony, the desire to quit, because the cause was worth it, and no pain no gain right? I've also run so many miles in preparation for a marathon that I developed a stress fracture in my foot, and running the last mile home on a broken bone likely made my foot worse. I'm lucky I didn't need surgery. In this case it would have done my body good had I heeded the pain signals, and my desire to quit, and stopped.

Often in life we are confronted by this choice, whether to ignore the pain, meaning to fight through it, or to throw in the towel, call it quits, walk. Especially in the realm of relationships. I was talking with a family friend the other day who brought up the self-help speaker and writer Marianne Williamson, among whose many best-selling books is Illuminata, which my parents owned. My friend loosely quoted the writer when she said that relationships teach you a lot about yourself, and if you think you have it figured out, get involved, "and see how fucked up you really are" seemed to be what was implied. And having been in many romantic relationships myself I can say that relationships are about growth, if the term growing pains has any real relevance - because love, at least as expressed in the traditional coupling, is hard work. But there is also the pain that you should not ignore, that is not for your growth. This bad pain is a sign that things are not working out, not the way they should be; that you are not meant for each other, that "sometimes love just ain't enough," to quote a popular song (by Patty Smyth); that, if you cannot change things, you should "just walk away," (Road Warrior, the original) because some things aren't worth the pain. 



Every day around the world spouses face this very dilemma, and partners everywhere must decide "should I stay or should I go?" An already complicated situation is compounded when kids are in the mix. There are conflicting reports about which harms a child more, parents who stay married but are miserable (and whose misery the child feels, perhaps more than either parent knows) or the unhappily married pair who gets a divorce and now is faced with the task of somehow dividing child rearing not just between schedules that differ but over new geographical distances, which compound the personality differences the parents already face. I've studied both sides of this argument, and I'm still on the fence.

I suppose if you can't amically coparent as a pair, then an amicable divorce would be the next best thing, but who am I to say, having never been married, probably because I knew deep down that like many I'd divorce and find it devastating. Fight the good fight is a way of approaching athletic training. I prefer the train hard, race easy mentality. What is the amorous analog, I wonder?

Suffice it to say that as for conscious coupling and coparenting or whatever variation for "married with kids" you choose to call yourself, you have to know when to say when. The ultimate question is: Will it be forever? Which is to say, for life, or till death. One of life's greatest mysteries, and its most alluring topics for sure, and which most of us have at least considered, maybe more than once. Three out of four divorcees do remarry.

Rocky went on to experience a lot of pain in his two-round hammering at the hands of Mr. T's Clubber, but trained by Apollo he returned to the ring to defeat the champion-for-a-day in what was perhaps the slickest fight in the Rocky franchise. We miss you Apollo. And you too Carl Weathers, wherever you may be.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

SOUL CYCLE

This is not a commentary on the latest fitness fad. Because if it were, the little I'd have to say on the subject would be largely derogatory. I simply cannot see see how crouching in a stuffy, dark, cramped room surrounded by sweat-drenched strangers while expending a lot of energy and going nowhere deserves to be called fun, though aficionados tell me it is (fun). I tell these aficionados that if no pain no gain is your thing, discomfort can be had for a lot cheaper than $50 an hour. Try plucking your nose hairs. What we don't do for the sake of beauty. This endurance heir to the Stairmaster and elliptical is all hype. There's a name for the type who likes to run (or otherwise move) in place. It's called a hamster. 

This reminds me of a joke my father likes to tell, about what living with a woman turns a guy into. You go from a wolf to a sheep to a hamster. After nearly 40 years of married life, my dad has added cockroach to the zoological lineage. Which I'm sure …

EVERYTHING'S INTENTIONAL

There is no such thing as screw-ups.

Case in point. My excellent friend Deej comes over to help me beautify the garden. He immediately dives in, crouching down on his knees and weed whacking with his bare hands. Before I can say yay or nay, he proceeds to remove a huge clump of daisy greens from the oblong patch of Earth adjacent to the driveway. The area instantly looks bare. Like the back of Woody Allen's head. Smoothing out the soil and shaking his head Deej mutters to himself "I fucked it up!" over and over again. We try everything. Planting succulents in the daisy's place. Covering it with rocks. But still the area looks barren. And every time you water it the water trickles down onto the sidewalk in the absence of roots to hold it in place. It's getting dark so we go back inside. The next day I return to the spot with a clear perspective and remove all the other daisies, leaving only rose bushes and the succulents that DJ planted, and depositing 10 bags of m…

GRAY MATTERS

I was watching the TV show Naked and Afraid last night as I sometimes do. The show teams together two strangers, a man and a woman, who attempt to survive on their own for a period of 21 days in some remote and isolated region. Some of the locales featured include the Australian Outback, the Amazonian rainforest and the African Savanna. The man may have a military background, or be an adventurist or deep sea fisherman. Sometimes he's an ordinary dude who lives with mom. The woman is a park ranger or extreme fitness enthusiast or "just a mom" herself. Sometimes the couple quarrel, sometimes one or both "tap out" (quit) in a fit of anger or illness. It is satisfying to see them actually make it through the challenge and reach their extraction point. The victors are usually exhausted, emaciated, begrimed and bare ass naked. 

Even more satisfying, at least for me, is the occasional ass shot, snuck in at strategic intervals to boost viewership, of course. It's co…