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My favorite scene in the movie, Master and Commander, starring Russell Crowe is (and this will say a lot about my sense of humor) the one in which Crowe is having dinner with a group of military officers. Two insects (weevils) are eating crumbs on a plate. Crowe asks one of the officers which one of the insects he would choose—which one is better. The officer plays along with the odd question by saying he’d choose the bigger, stronger one. Crowe smiles slyly and dismisses the man’s answer by saying, “One must always choose the lesser of two weevils.” I love wordplay, so although I remember almost nothing of the rest of this film, I will probably never forget this scene. (If you Google “Master and Commander, lesser of two weevils” you can watch a clip. It might make you smile.)
I saw an up-close example of the “lesser of two weevils” recently.
If you’ve read my recent posts, you know that my much-loved next-door neighbor, my Aunt Dolores—also known as “Aunt Bo,” was living by herself after the death of her sister, Ginny.
Aunt Bo was desperately lonely and it was taking a toll on her emotional health. Her children found a lovely assisted-living residence for her, but a series of things had to happen before she could make the move. On her end, there were things like medical appointments, vaccinations, and financial paperwork. On the end of the residence, there was more paperwork and also logistical items—someone was still in the room Bo was to have: that lady now needed more care and was waiting for a spot in a skilled nursing facility.
Bo’s reaction to all the new solitude was extreme; she was depressed and distraught, not eating or sleeping well, and we were all really worried about her. She was also dealing with a lot of fear about her impending move. Then something unexpected happened. One morning she went into the back bedroom to look out the window, because she was going out and wanted to check the weather before getting dressed. The floor in that bedroom is shiny linoleum, and the cleaning lady always makes sure it’s clean as a whistle. Bo slipped on that slick floor, and fell. Although she didn’t break any bones, she must have bruised a few, because for the next six weeks she was in an incredible amount of pain.
There were two ER visits, several house calls from Bo’s doctor and his physician’s assistant (yes, in South Philly, house calls are still a thing); there were pain patches and ice packs and lots of pain medication.
As usual, I visited often, but I noticed that when it was time for me to leave, Bo didn’t seem upset that I was going. Dealing with the pain appeared to be consuming her thoughts and requiring the bulk of her energy. One morning while drinking coffee with her, I said,
“You know, I think the pain has been making you forget about being lonely.”
She nodded in agreement and said, “That occurred to me, too.”
“Which one do you think is worse?” I asked.
She forced a smile through her pain and said, “I don’t really know.”
I’ve noticed something about pain. Emotional pain can be recalled and re-experienced, in its full original strength, at any time—even years later. But physical pain, once it has passed, is remembered but not relived. I can rank the physical pain I’ve experienced in my life: the pain after my foot surgery was intense, but not as intense as the pain of childbirth. The pain l experienced when a virus hit the nerves in my shoulder far surpassed any other pain I’ve ever had, including that of childbirth. But, although I can rank these pains, I can’t bring them to memory the way I can call up emotional pain.
I wish my aunt hadn’t had to go through what she went through as a result of her fall, but as the pain continues to subside, she’ll forget the feeling of it. And it was good to see that unlike so many other bad things that take place in a life, it served a purpose.
I’m experiencing some very painful things in my own life right now. I actually have been for quite a while. I can’t see any value in any of them. I may never be able to see their value. But I have to believe that it’s there—even if it is just because they are making me stronger.
I guess pain is the lesser of two evils when the alternative is being pain-free, but weak.
Because being strong is a very good thing.
(But just in case anyone in charge wants to know—I’m pretty sure I’m strong enough now!)
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Photo by Aartem Bell via Pexels
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