A Burning Bush in Gary, Indiana (1979)
I could interpret the strange fact that the title of my
sixth-grade science project was "The Control of Chronic Pain," and
that I later developed years of constant pain (felt primarily as a dagger of
criminal nerves behind the left eye), in one of two ways:
1. It's just a coincidence. No connection. There is no real system of meaning in the universe. After all, I'm hardly unique. More than a quarter of all Americans experience some form of chronic pain each year, and about 20 percent of women have migraines or some type of persistent headache, a term I have used as shorthand to name my particular mystery affliction. For God's sake, the headache is the most common medical condition plaguing human beings! And there you have it.
2. You see, the New Agers, much of the alternative medicine and self-help industry, and all those psychoanalysts are right. All pain has some meaning. Everything in life happens for a reason, so we can grow. There are no accidents. The sixth-grade science project was a clear sign from God or Spirit or the Higher Power of Your Understanding that all along I was meant to experience these headaches, learn from them, and then teach others to relieve their suffering.
More specifically, as I interpret this second popular philosophy, we are each basically nothing more than ageless, continually reincarnating souls on an eternal mission for enlightenment, seeking to learn the vital and often painful lessons that our previous selves neglected. Just before we are born, our invisible spirits, just released from dead people, hover in the twilight-somewhere between the clouds and heaven-waiting for the next baby, which will represent their next and most effective learning opportunity. Then, at the proper moment, like synchronized swimmers lined up on a long series of diving boards by the pool's edge in a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical, they each seamlessly dive sideways and gracefully in cascading sequence into their individually designated earthly human containers.
So, from this perspective, what evidently happened to me was that on the day I was born, April 9, 1967, my particular soul looked down and had the foresight, as souls often do, to choose my unassuming bourgeois South Suburban Chicago human life-form. It knew that, through a series of hapless errors in judgment and general misfortune, this bipedal hominid would offer the soul the perfect opportunity to fulfill its particular mission: having a really, really bad headache.
In its infinite wisdom, the soul recognized that I would grow up with an anesthesiologist uncle who started one of the earlier chronic pain clinics in America, in Gary, Indiana--a land mass which is comparable in its cosmic power significance only to the sacred continental energy-vortex center underlying the Great Pyramid of Giza, or to that freaky thing in Sedona that attracts all those tourists. At the age of twelve, a traditional age of initiation into the world, my uncle would suggest as a topic for my sixth-grade science project "chronic pain," offering valuable foreshadowing. That science project would serve as my own personal burning bush, as a platform on which the Divine could manifest itself on earth and alert me to my purpose.
The soul knew that despite the initially apparent dry nature of this topic of chronic pain, its mysteries would soon powerfully capture my imagination. After all, it posed so many more haunting and mesmerizing questions than the garden variety projects of my classmates, what with their pedestrian baking-soda volcanoes and hamster-perplexing mazes.
I was drawn to the topic of pain the same way I was to the riveting made-for-TV John Travolta movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble of that era, about the freakishness that results when the body goes awry. It had the same pull as the horrible, terrorizing historical accounts of Jewish girls my age hiding from the Nazis, such as in the Scholastic book Marta and the Nazis, which was most likely ordered from the back of a Weekly Reader, about a German girl stashing the family diamonds in the head of a doll she carried away in the train going over the border. And then there was the story of the more famous real-life Dutch girl hiding in an attic covered in movie posters, in a story still too dark for me to fully comprehend. Probably Catholic kids feel the same weird connection to tales of martyred saints riddled with arrows, sleeping on piles of bricks, wearing gloves filled with nettles, and/or willingly starving themselves to death. They just eat that stuff up.
From the preface to All In My Head, pages ix - xvi. Copyright Paula Kamen 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Da Capo Press.
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