The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Book Review - Understanding Human Pain

Book: The Pain of Being Human

Author: Eugene Kennedy

Publisher: Better Yourself Books, 2008

Volume: 202 pages

Cost: Shs 20,000

Available from St Paul's bookshop.

This book is about pain, not the pain of others that we comfortably reflect on but don't feel, but OUR pain. Here Eugene Kennedy, a psychologist, deals with those things mothers could not warn us about and no-one could prepare us for, but which are very much part of our lives.

Beneath all his bravado, the writer, Ernest Hemingway, tried to warn us about the ordinary pains of life he felt so keenly. He suffered bi-polar disorder, one of whose main characteristics is that the patient can't communicate to others the mental misery he suffers. This kind of "pain" is part of the mystery of being human.

The deepest nerves of life are touched in our relationships with each other. We feel them in moments of misunderstanding; in the uneasy times when a friend demands a loyalty that would make us untrue to ourselves.

We feel it when we cannot seem to break through to another, and, feeling isolated, are left alone with a personal grief as much a part of us as an open wound. Physical pain, or the emptiness, anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness of psychological suffering, is never far away.

By trying to flee it in one place, we will only find it somewhere else. The soul is better prepared for pain when it is accustomed to self-denial. Not the self-denial of the work-out or health foods, but the self-denial that helps fulfill the life of the spirit. Hunger, the old saying goes, is the best sauce.

For example, even people in love must face separation at times. Constant togetherness can dull the deepest relationship. Otherwise, how will they know the joy of being reunited and rediscovering each other?

Kennedy gives the interesting case of a patient he refers to as James B. This man, in his mid-forties, had suddenly discovered that he had no friends, that nobody seemed to like him and that his heart felt clammy from a loneliness he neither wanted nor understood.

James B., apparently, had made his life exactly that way. He had substituted the use of his superior intelligence for a more balanced development of himself. In his twenties and thirties, he had coped well with his emotions.

But now, all of a sudden, everything had unravelled; it was no longer enough to bully work-mates and others into agreement as he had always done. In so, doing, he had lost the friends he now so badly needed.

About forgiveness, Kennedy says: real forgiveness, the profoundly spiritual element that restores wholeness to people, is given only if we are willing to drop our guard once more. Forgiveness demands that we make ourselves open to getting hurt all over again.

And of its brother, love: it is only because love makes us so open and trusting that it also makes us targets for each other's occasional sensitivity. Apropos, someone's very truthful advice: "Marriages may be made in heaven, but the maintenance work is done on earth." A slow but worthwhile, reflective read.

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