Speed of Pain
The news traveled swiftly, at light speed,
arriving by phone from far away,
from there, it traveled at the speed of sound
to my ear, making its way at nerve speed,
a third of that, until it registers as pain,
traveling even slower.
Pain travels slow, so slow the hand is away
from the flame before the brain even knows
the pain of it.
Heart pain travels slow, though
the shock is fast.
Heart pain travels slow, walking speed,
so we poor people
can keep up.
Loss of a child, loss of a loved one,
takes years for the pain
to go on without us.
speed of light: 30 million meters/second (m/s)
speed of sound: 340 m/s
speed of muscle positioning: 119 m/s
speed of touch (hearing): 76 m/s
speed of pain: 0.61 m/s
The news travels fast,
as it does, as it always has,
for life is real and death is real—
and both are an innocent yellow bird.
They mean us no harm.
The news engulfs him slowly,
as it must, as it always has,
the cool sorrow rising
up from his toes
through his calves and knees,
into his thighs. His belly cries,
the warmth of her skin,
as she lay her head on him,
resting, making plans—
He feels the sorrow approach
his chest. He knows it will come.
The gasping, the weeping,
they are creeping toward him.
He is not ready.
He will never be ready.
So he stands and stares at
where she is not.
And he longs for something other
than this large and lonely
and inconsolable loss.
I've been thinking about big stories.
Putting on the market an 1895 house that my wife's family has lived in for 68 years is a big story, yet, as we went through every piece of paper that had come to the house in those years, we kept getting caught in the little stories.
Just as the old man with the gray beard listens to a bird, I try to listen too. My car won't start. What are my options? How do I go from the exasperation of the moment to seeing how fortunate I am to have a car at all. And so I have to walk. At first I complain because I paid someone to fix my car, but then I realize that birds are singing as I walk.
Why is it so hard to step back? How much wisdom that man must have had to listen to the bird. He could be complaining about his fading memory or his aching body. But no, it is the bird that catches his attention.
There is a dark cloud above him. Is this telling us that something bad is going to happen to the man? And his hearing might be going, which is why the horn is placed on his ear like a hearing aid.
My sister-in-law asked me what my big story was in five words. I said something about wanting to connect different belief systems. She said I used too many words.
These simple joys, like listening to a bird's song, take us away from our miseries. The big story... It is not the story with consequences. It goes beyond time, place and circumstance. There is so much petty stuff that the man could be obsessing about. How will he divide up her property when he dies? Did he pay his bills? Does he have food for dinner?
Yet he chooses a little joy. The bird's song takes him to another place. Like the bird, he is just focusing on a song. He is liberated from his car not starting, his life ending, his kids fighting over his property. The bird sings a big story. If only I could hear it.
When the bird comes to sing to me
the bird as bright as sunshine
with its gold wings
its cocked head from which the notes pour forth,
will I believe?
Or will I say no, this dark water that I stand in,
this dark rain that pours upon my head
only these are real.
Will I play the sentimental fool,
believe what cannot be?
say the one I love loves me,
while others snicker?
Will I cling to my sorrow
or will I hear the bird?