Playing Through Pain by William Klein

Author Andrew Klaven tells a story about Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter “playing through pain.” I’ll get to this in a minute, but first a little background on Klaven’s story.

Klaven was raised a Jew and started studying the Gospels because he was interested in the literary quality of the stories. His father caught him reading them and told Andrew “If you ever convert, I will disown you.”

One night Andrew was thinking of throwing it all away. He loved baseball and was listening to an interview with Mets catcher Gary Carter after a game. A devout Christian who would give credit to Jesus for his success, Carter would usually answer with the typical platitude – “Praise Jesus for allowing me…” Klaven said, “If Carter said that tonight it may have been the death of me, but he didn’t say that.” In the interview he heard how Carter, whose knees were shot, played through his suffering. He ran out a hit on his bad knees and this play won the game for his team. The interviewer asked him, “Why did you run so hard on bad knees?”  Carter said, “Sometimes you need to play through the pain.”

Klaven, a man seriously contemplating suicide, found something in this statement that changed his life. It wasn’t the typical Christian cliche that is articulated and turns people off due to the stigmas attached to religion. It was a human expression and one individual’s example that kissed the heart of a desperate man looking for an answer. 

The statement identifies the aspect of pain and how our quest to overcome suffering is the cornerstone of our being. Every religion identifies with this central concept of this ontology.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, who recently passed away, understood this suffering conundrum all too well. He spent his career addressing this issue and writing beautifully about it in his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” He worked through it when grieving his own child who died at a young age and suffered from a horrible disease.

“You will see the wrong people sick and the wrong people dying.” He writes, “You will see things happen that you can’t understand…. As humans, we understand injustice all too well. It is legitimate to call God to account for His own standards of justice.” It is legitimate to shake your fist and confront God about your pain.

You are addressing the act by going to the source of your pain within and without. Kushner addressed the fact that it “may not be in God’s control. Laws of nature can’t tell who a good person is or not…. Forest fires are not acts of God. Floods are not acts of God. They are acts of nature. But working through community to rebuild together is an act of God.” Knowing that we are in it together and will process pain and play through it by holding one another in our time of need is an act of God.

I won’t pretend to have an easy answer for overcoming suffering. This one question regarding suffering can fill volumes of books. Authors spend lifetimes reconciling where they are in relation to it. Some artists devote their work to finding an adequate way to articulate how something deep has been reconciled for the time through the spiritual life and how they’ve been witness to people who have personally moved through it.

There is suffering in this world and each person has to reconcile with that pain in his own way. I’ve discovered that sometimes we have to face that pain to become something more as a result of our courage in facing this unconditionally. Kushner agrees.

I recently attended the wake of a man who died at the age of 24. He couldn’t speak and suffered from severe autism, but his love for life was so contagious that his example of life transformed the lives of hundreds of people. His obituary was filled not with the wisdom of what he said, but the wisdom of how he lived, and the example he set for others in simple acts of enjoying life on life’s terms and rising above through the love of being.

He couldn’t articulate his pain. He couldn’t help doctors who were trying to help him, and they did the best they could in helping him work through it. It’s all any of us can do. We can only do so much in helping others work through pain, but the ministry of presence is something. You are not alone in your fumbling in the dark to find the answers. There is comfort in that for some people.

Our cognizance in accepting our limitations is profound. Our willingness to play through the pain is even more powerful. Our teamwork in building a better world and alleviating suffering in the name of peace are acts of God. Our ministry of presence and example is key to letting others know their pain means something and is meaningful to you.

Kushner’s advice for helping suffering people is to say, “I’m sorry, hold their hands, keep your mouth shut and listen!” The wise Rabbi said, “People want consolation, reassurance and to know they are cared for…. You don’t explain it, or justify it, you survive it.”

This is how we survive and “play through our pain” together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s