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The Lesson of the Abdominal Cramp

I felt like I was giving birth to a baby dagger.

I don’t know whether it was the fog, or the cold, or the biking, or the stress, or the plentiful processed carbs I’d (happily) consumed that day, or hormones, or what. I just know I was biking along and then bam, my insides seized up and started stabbing me and I couldn’t draw a full breath.

I got off my bike and called my ex-husband. A passing cyclist told me to breathe into the cramp, expand outward, and push the cramp down with my hand while exhaling. Massage and breathing to the rescue, I thought, well, I understand that.

So I did that and walked my bike and it was probably more helpful than holding my breath, but I was still crying in pain. After an hour my whimpers had become yelps and screams of pain...but on the streets of San Francisco, no one cares if you scream.

The rich white people were as self-obsessed and blind as I expected them to be. The only person who gave a shit was a poor black man in a poor black neighbourhood, who expressed tender human concern. I was not surprised. In my stereotype of his back-story, he was probably someone who knew about hard times. For a millionth time, I heard Dat’s voice in my head, saying, “if you need help, go to the poor. They are the only ones who will help you, because they are the only ones who know what it’s like.”

I walked more than four miles, breathing, pushing down on my cramp, weeping, whimpering, and pushing my bike. I beat myself up for being a Bad Meditator and a Bad Yogi, because I knew if I were a good meditator and a good breather, I would not feel the pain, or I would feel pain but be at peace with it. The fact that I felt pain was my own fault, and proof that I was Bad and lazy and unrigorous in my practices and deserved to feel pain. Then I beat myself up for beating myself up about that, because I knew that was bad, and I was trying to step away from that behaviour pattern.

I worked really hard at taking in the whole situation. I noticed that I didn’t even notice anything about my outside circumstances. All I knew was I was walking west toward home. I didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything, didn’t observe anything, because I was so focussed on my pain. Note to self, I thought. Look at that. When people are in pain they don’t see what’s around them. I also wished someone would come to my rescue, but knew I was the only one who could save myself. Another note to self. We want others to somehow do for us what only we can do for ourselves. I tried to take in my entire state and be grateful that the pain was only in one part of my body. Sure, my right side was in agony, but the entire rest of me was doing great, that was something to be glad of! I was in good health. Why couldn’t I pay attention to my left elbow, that felt just groovy? Why is the mind drawn to pain the fastest? I mean, I know that’s on purpose, so that we will take steps to make the pain go away. But it’s annoying. —I noticed that I would do just about anything if it meant this pain would go away. I hadn’t felt such pain since I was in labor, but it was worse than that because it was constant. I hadn’t felt such pain since Planned Parenthood tried to shove an IUD up my crooked cervix with no anaesthesia, but it lasted longer than that.

Through my tears, I noticed I was passing House El Bethel. This is the house of God, I noted. Hi there, God, please help me, I thought. I know you are with me but I am still in a lot of pain. I tried to tell myself the Lord’s Prayer but it was too long.

I sang the Shema in my head. I sang it all the way home.

I called my ex-husband and cried.

Finally I made it to his house and he ran me a hot bath and gave me a banana and a cup of water. And then I was better as long as I was in the bath, but once I came out, the cramp came back. Then I took some Advil and now I’m better.

But the philosophical implications were wide-reaching. Remember that when people are in pain (and most people are in pain of some kind), it draws their attention and colours and skews their perception of life. They may not even see you, they may only see their pain. Everything they do may be a reaction to their pain. Everything they do may be a way of coping with their pain.

Thank you, God, for a place to stay, and a hot bath, and potassium, and fluids, and ibuprofen, and an ex-husband who provided them all. Please watch over all those people out there who are in so much pain that that’s all they can see.

I hope for their sake that eventually they will have time to notice that it was a pleasant evening, full of stars and the twinkling distant lights of the city and waving dark juniper and olive trees.