Pain Scale

The image came to me last night in the midst of a haze between coming fully awake and trying to claw back down to the depths of sleep.  The pain would not let me be.  I surrendered, finally, and allowed my mind to drift upwards.  I saw it then:  A brass scale, like that held by Lady Justice on the steps of every courthouse that I’ve haunted over the last forty years.

I squinted at the stacks of weights sorted in ascending order:  One ounce, two ounces, all the way to a pound.  I let my mind drift.  My legs twitched.  The muscles in my calves contracted into hard knots.  I reached for the heaviest weight and placed it the right side of the scale, which instantly crashed to the desk beneath it.  One pound, I murmured into the dark of my tiny house.  Sixteen ounces.  That’s how much this pain must weigh.  I figured myself to be dreaming.

Through the murk, I reflected on the rest of the shiny disks.  One plus two plus three plus four plus five plus six.. . . Each little brass weight slightly bigger.   I suddenly realized that the combination of the fifteen remaining weights would tip the scale.  I grabbed the pile and chucked them onto the left-hand side of the scale.  That thing clanged right down!  If the pound weight represented my pain, each of the smaller weights must be something else in my life.  Friends, my son, my career, my writing, travel, the glorious ocean.   The cumulative heft of them far surpassed that damned blob on the right-hand platform.  One plus two plus three plus four plus five plus six plus seven. . . 28. . . plus eight. . . 36. . . plus 9. . . 45. . . plus 10. . . 55. . . plus 11. . . 66. . . plus 12. . . 78. . . plus 13. . . plus 14. . . plus 15. . . 120 ounces altogether.

The sum total of my life outweighed the measure of my pain by 104 symbolic ounces.   

I let go of my wakefulness and fell into a dreamless slumber.  I woke just before dawn to the sound of a gentle rain dancing on my roof.     In the cold morning air, my legs ached just as much; my calves still cramped against the slight weight of the comforter.  I struggled out of bed and eased myself down the stairs.    I thought about the pain scale.  I found myself listing everything that I had placed in the left tray; the measure of my life, wildly more significant than the everyday inconvenience of my disability.  When I passed the heart-shaped mirror above my little  dresser, I caught myself smiling. 

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the one-hundred and eleventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Do you think they might be arguing? Perhaps one of them got out of the wrong side of the nest this morning.

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