"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts." - Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia"

Jan 01 2014

Peter O'Toole shares this sage wisdom to a young man who is trying to learn the trick of letting a match burn down in his fingertips. When the man seems surprised that the match burned him - shocking, I know - O'Toole manages to avoid rolling his eyes and using the word "Duh" in response. Instead, he takes the high road and imparts a piece of advice that, when you mutter it to yourself at the DMV, will serve the dual purpose of calming you down and frightening the person standing next to you.
Many people start off their New Year with Resolutions, also known as Planning To Hate Yourself Later For Shit You Knew You'd Pull. Quite a few of these Lies revolve around physical fitness.

I'm going to workout every single day! No, you'll get sick or hurt yourself or have to work late, and you'll miss a day, and you'll Hate Yourself and give up.

I'm only going to eat healthy foods! Not likely if you live in the United States, where we put sugar on fruit.

I'll never smoke again! Then why do you still carry a lighter everywhere? Aromatherapy candles, really?

Look, I'm not saying I'm a paragon of virtue - far from it. If anything, I'm a paragon of salt and fat. I wanted to start off this year with a quote from the great Peter O'Toole, who recently passed, because it's a very pithy way of reminding ourselves that life is pain. You're going to disappoint yourself, your spouse, your kids, your boss, and you probably disappointed your mother before you could even crawl. That's not the point.

Everyone who is alive on the planet experiences pain, disappointment, frustration, and anger. I've spent the past 5 months watching my son suffer at the hands of various members of the medical community, listening to them explain why they can't help him and telling me I should just be patient. I've sacrificed my ability to support myself in order to care for him, and that's a very jagged pill to swallow for someone who has done her own grocery shopping while on crutches. I'm unable to do anything right now but wait, depend on the kindness of others, and try to wait for the cheesecake to thaw before I eat it. If one more person says to me this is God's will, so help me, I'm buying them a large and very scary clown doll as karmic retribution.

Pain is to be expected. Every single one of us has had a metaphorical match in our hands and watched it burn down to our fingertips. We've seen unemployment benefits run out. We've had spouses bail. We have reached into the bag expecting one last cookie only to find crumbs.

What matters is how we react to the pain. You know the pain will come, especially when you can see the match burning right in front of you, so prepare to handle the pain or you'll drown in it. I used to wallow in worst-case scenarios, and then a friend confronted me and said, "OK, what would you actually do if that happened?" It got me in the habit of imagining the worst possible outcome and then mentally planning what I would do to handle it.

For the unforeseen moments of random pain - not so much candles burning down to fingertips as a sudden haymaker to the jaw - there is no way to prepare except knowing that they'll come. And they will hurt. And then you'll keep going, and good things will happen, and bad things will happen, and there will be many ordinary moments in between the moments that hurt. The trick is reminding yourself it's temporary pain, breathing through it, knowing that the good moments will come again.

So don't listen to the little voice that tells you you're stupid or fat or worthless. Ignore the feeling that missing one workout means your resolution to workout every day is 'broken'. You're human, something came up, and you can work out tomorrow. Eating a slice of your daughter's birthday cake doesn't mean you're not eating healthy anymore; it means you're eating what you want in moderation. I do have to caution the person hooked up to the oxygen tank, sitting in a wheelchair outside a hospital, to please reconsider that cigarette you're about to light. If you blow yourself up, it will be a huge inconvenience to the rest of us.

Get out there and live, knowing it's going to hurt. The trick? Not minding that it hurts.

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