There are things that most of us forget as we get older: What it feels like to look at the world from the perspective of 2 or 3 feet off the ground. What it feels like not to know what letters and numbers mean. What it feels like to skin your knees.
As a kindergarten teacher last year, I went through boxes of bandaids and wiped thousands of tears mending skinned knees. Each time a casualty of the playground would come to me, I would give him or her as much empathy as I could spare, I’d coach them through being brave as I cleaned their wounds and applied the magical healing power of a plastic bandage. But it always seemed that these accidents happened in waves, and I’d have to work as fast as I could to help one while another hollered, or help one while eighteen other children asked questions about water or bathroom or what-are-we-doing-next. I’m sure there were times when the healing process hurt; when I was more worried about the efficiency of getting the bandaid on and class continuing than soothing tears or kissing boo-boos. The scrapes and scratches happened so often, surely the tears would dry up soon and the bandaid work its healing powers without more lost class time on my part.
But about two weeks ago, the shoe was on the other foot. Or, if you’ll pardon me, the scrape was on the other knee. B and I were coming out of a cute little breakfast place at the beach. In one hand I had my to-go coffee, in the other I clutched my wallet and the stickers and brochures I had just pilfered to add to my journal. With full hands, I was at the mercy of the sidewalk as I tripped and fell full-force on my right knee and took most of the skin off. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. After ascertaining that I wasn’t too hurt, B decided to chuckle a bit, then load me into the car and take me to the nearest pharmacy.
He played the part that’s usually mine to play, picking up extra large bandaids and alcohol wipes while I limped a little and suddenly realized: this is what a skinned knee feels like. It had been so long since I had really fallen hard, I had forgotten how unpleasant the feeling was. As B cleaned the dirt out and I felt the sting of the alcohol wipe, I silently apologized to each and every student whom I had told not to cry so hard, that it was all going to be okay. Because while the antiseptic is healing, it HURTS. Even after it was all over and done, it didn’t feel great. I wanted to limp around and show off my big girl bandaid, to display how brave I was.
Maybe it’s silly, but I felt like this was a good experience for me to have as a teacher. I know I will flash back to that moment from this summer every time a child comes to me next year, and I will be empathetic. I will understand exactly what it feels like, and I will be able to understand why the whimpering happens as I clean the wound. I won’t feel so greatly the need to shush and get it over with so the next thing can happen. Because I was reminded so vividly what that pain feels like, I’ll be better able to love my children with skinned knees.
This concept pertains to so many other situations in life as well. Hard things come. Hurt comes. Oftentimes when someone is hurting, we want them to feel better as soon as possible. We shush them with words, promising things will be better soon, it’s not all that bad. But feeling pain allows us to be quiet, to empathize, not just sympathize. We don’t want to suffer, but suffering makes us better able to love those who are hurting. I hope I can use this lesson from skinned knees and apply it to other areas of my life. How can I use the hurts in my past to help me love those who are hurting now?
In that same talk that gave me the kick in the back I needed to start blogging, Don Miller said this about heroes: In our favorite stories, the hero and the villain usually both have a painful backstory. But what makes the difference is how they handle their pain. The villain chooses to be a victim of it. But, the hero redeems her pain.
So today I’m celebrating my skinned knee. Long may it remind me to love others, even amidst their pain.
Have you seen this to be true? Can pain be redeemed? I’d love to hear your voice in the comments.