Fuel for our journey

"Fire O" by Marcus Obal, licensed under CCA-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Fire O” by Marcus Obal, licensed under CCA-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”Kenji Miyazawa

That sounds like a good idea to me.  However, it may be difficult to implement.  As fuels go, pain is an expensive one.  And it’s not particularly clean-burning, either.

Still, there are times when we don’t have much choice.  It may be that burning pain for fuel is the least damaging option in the long run, far less damaging than storing it away where it will produce toxic fumes.  Besides which, we may not have a lot of other options available for some quick and much-needed energy.

During those times when we find ourselves running low on fuel, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, I hope we can find ways to utilize the negative experiences of pain, sorrow or frustration, all of which tend to have lessons embedded within.  If we’re lucky, we still have a good bit of our journey ahead of us, and we can use whatever assets we find to keep us going.  Some will be more attractive than others, but all might turn out to be necessary.

I wish you freedom from pain, but when it strikes, burn it as fuel if you can possibly manage it.  Though it’s a tough conversion process, it’s worked for me in the past, and probably will again.

One year ago today:

Alchemy in sorrow


  1. What a graceful/powerful shot!
    I wish all could do that conversion. Today morning my father’s brother passed away unexpectedly. His wife died just three weeks before! They were such a wonderful couple who, being farmers, spent all their life together for entire 43 years, and the bond was so strong. I can’t think of the pain the family is going through, especially that of the eldest of the two sons who looked after both of them.

    • Bindu, I am so sorry for your loss. So often when couples are especially close, one will die soon after the other one does. It’s bittersweet to reflect that they probably wanted to be together in death as in life. While it is terribly hard on their children, at least the sons and daughters do not have to see the loneliness of the widowed parent, as happens with many who survive for years and never remarry. But healing from this double loss will take a long time. I will pray for you and your family, that your sorrow will be eased with happy memories.

  2. singleseatfighterpilot

    I doubt Miyazawa was into the cutsey work-out gym expression, “no pain – no gain”. Biologically speaking, the by-product of lactic acid build-up in the muscles, described as a “burning” ssenssation by some and as “cramps” by others, cannot be burned. As the muscles burn sugar, in an oxygen enhanced environment, lactic acid becomes the enemy.
    But oh, that the “sorrow and frustration” pain could be as mild as biological pain! You are right that conversion is difficult, and “clean-burning”? Even including that metaphor was supposed to be comical, wasn’t it?
    Look at pain as a barrier. Like the “sound barrier” it seemed impenetrable. Conversion of aircraft controls to handle this barrier was difficult (there is actually a region of “reverse command”command, where up is down and down is up) BUT WE GOT THROUGH IT! Julia, you can get through it!!! Think of your muscles as being able to burn lactic acid, if you must. I’d rather you see the “barrier” of the victory tape across the track, at the finish line. A runner with a “head of steam” bursts through that tape easily. (Read again 1 Corinthians 9:24 and Philippians 3: 13-15, and know that I Love You!)

    • Eric, the reference to “clean-burning” was meant to be sardonic more than humorous. I appreciate your image of breaking the sound barrier. It will stick with me. Thanks so much for your closing exhortation; it means more than I can say.

  3. When pain shows itself, my knee jerk reaction is to express a frustrated and angered, “Now What?!” Then I quickly catch myself and think of someone, whether loved one or aquaintance, who I know is struggling, and offer my pain in a prayer to lessen theirs.
    Surprisingly, my pain detensifies, as I’ve found a valued use for it; by taking my mind off myself and placing it on another.

    • Alan, I too have found that to be true, especially while we spent so many weeks at Walter Reed where brave men were dealing with catastrophic injury. I think being on the “Wounded Warrior” floor helped Jeff get through his several brushes with death following post-op complications that required repeat surgeries. Another image that stuck with me is from the book Angela’s Ashes, where the nuns encourage the suffering child to “offer up” his pain to God as a sign of submission to God and solidarity with those who suffer. While the young boy grew tired of hearing that when he was in acute pain, he nonetheless seemed to remember it, as did I, though I read that book many years ago! 🙂

  4. raynard

    Julia 3 years ago after getting off work, I had a pain in my back. It got worse as the weekend went on. I tried like” John Wayne with True Grit to tough it out. Made it back to work Sunday night but Monday morning , I was at the V.A.I wrote a blog about it. Will send you a link. Be blessed Disclaimer,’I remember all my life..Rainin down as cold as ice.. Sorry ,I had a “Barry Manilow moment, I digress… It was back in grade school, sixth grade I believe when I saw my first globe. That peaked my interest in world geography along with watching back in the day
    A.B.C T.V’s ‘Wide World of sports. And how can I forget”Mutural of Omaha’s’Wild Kingdom.
    As time went on it would be trips to the library and seeing “Life magazine, and National
    Geographic..I would learn about some of the coldest places on earth so I thought.

    around March,I started to feel some discomfort in my right leg. It was always
    when I woke up to get ready for work when I worked nights..Us men tend to blame things
    on advancing age with excuses like”I’m not as young as I use to be..Working outdoors
    you make another excuse especially during the winter is”I can feel the cold down in
    my bones.. I’ve seen snow falling out in the desert while training back in my military
    career along with cold in the state of Texas..Even when I was in the countries of
    Turkey and Germany there were cold temperatures. The second coldest place
    I ever been was upstate N.Y where the temperature was way below zero.

    As the pain got worse, I would go visit my wife in N.J. who was caring from her elderly
    aunt and uncle it was nothing but asprin and heating pads all that time. This was over
    one weekend and I had to go back home to go to work. The pain would get worse.
    After “being a tough guy” the next morning, I would drive myself down to the local
    V.A. hospital emergency room.. The T.V. set in the waiting room was on with the
    news about Bin Laden’s Death..When my name was called,I was in so much
    pain that I was placed in a wheelchair to be transported to another part of the hospital.

    I was wheeled to a lobby waiting area by a side enterance. Then a coldness would
    come and almost made me wish I was back over in Iraq. But that heat I experienced
    over there couldnt take this coldness away.. It would make me get out of the wheelchair
    and sit in a regular chair and “grin and bear the pain”.In my head I would hear that old
    ‘Johnny Mathis song playing’Look at me.., I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree.lol

    The coldness would come from the stares of the people coming in the door who
    worked there and the feeling of unfriendliness which I never experienced since
    I was over in Iraq and stationed with some people who didnt try to hide it if you
    were different from them.Fast forword after a year of new friendships and meeting
    different people in various places me and my wife traveled and renewing family
    friendships with people who knew me when I was a child warms my heart
    better than any cup of hot tea or cocoa and the only icing I like is on a cake..

    Thank God for showing and growing me into the man I am now. May everyone who
    reads this be greatly encouraged and blessed.

    • Raynard, thank you for sharing this story. I am so sorry you had a bad experience at the VA hospital. I’ve heard lots of stories from the VA hospitals in various places. I think the people working there must get “compassion fatigue” which happens in all hospitals I guess. When Matt moved from the cardiac ICU to the heart and kidney floor some of the people there were the same way. You would think that people could spare at least a bit of kindness for those who are sick or suffering. The good part is that your story has a happy ending and I am thankful for your wife, friends and family who are there for you. If you ever need to go back into the hospital for anything, I hope you will have some really good and compassionate providers. I know from experience that those in such jobs who have caring hearts can make all the difference at a time when we need it most. Thanks for being here and sharing with us!

  5. Julia, I’m not familiar with that quote but it’s certainly much to consider. Over the years we have seen so much pain and suffering in our medical world of prosthetics and orthotics. We have seen just as many blessings though and fuel beyond words. Thank you, Julia, for this blog today! I’ve been visiting with family for several days, that has come to the ‘Grand Strand” from Florida and North Carolina. The vacationing world is so different, especially under a rented umbrella, in a rented chair, in a space shared with more bodies than I could ever dream. Apparently, this annual event, is played out every week, same sun and sand, just to a new audience. 🙂 AMAZING!!

    • Thank you Sheila. I am so glad you are in a service profession where your compassionate and cheerful personality is bound to help many people who are really in need of it. I’m also happy you are able to visit with family…and yes, the vacationing world is quite different! We experienced this in Hawaii where “normal” daily life is far from what visitors might imagine it to be. Unfortunately (or maybe I should say fortunately) we are not on perpetual holiday even when we live in vacation hotspots! (no pun intended). Hope you will have a wonderful time playing tourist! 😀

      • Julia, although Bill wasn’t thrilled to make a late Friday hospital call, when he delivered the back brace yesterday (Monday) the delighted patient will long be remembered. He surprised her with the requested color, PINK, highly unusual. Hopefully, she will wear it happily and the boating accident had a good ending! 🙂

        • Sheila, thank goodness for those who are willing to work “after hours” since life (and accidents) go on 24/7. A PINK back brace – how delightful! I too hope for a happy ending. If someone thought to request pink, I think she has a good chance of getting better. 😀 It’s such a happy color.

      • I had so much fun that I did it all over again today! Bill called me a BEACH BUM….what a way to go! 🙂

        • Better to BE a beach bum than to HAVE one!!! Sorry, I couldn’t resist…catch some extra rays for me!

  6. Wow, Julia, I missed reading yesterday, but I’m so glad that I went back. This is really a profound new concept for me, who has always done my level best to avoid pain. This is very good, indeed. Better than the optimistic strategy of making lemonade from lemons, in some ways, because sometimes you just don’t have any sugar left.

    • Yes, I’ve been in that place more often than I could ever have imagined years ago, when I was young and knew it all. 😀 There’s nothing wrong with avoiding pain when possible, but none of us will escape it completely. I honestly believe that EVERYBODY has a hard life in many ways, no matter who they are. I try to make lemonade whenever I can — in fact it’s my favorite drink, after tea 😀 — but as you say, there are times when there’s no consolation to be found and we just have to grit our teeth and survive. I like Eric’s analogy of breaking the sound barrier. Though I’ve never done it (as he has, many times) I can imagine it would be rather terrifying, no matter how thrilling, and would require strong determination not to back out.

      • I, too, liked Eric’s analogy of breaking the sound barrier. You know I liked his kind sentiments! 🙂

        • 🙂 YES Eric’s kind sentiments are his best ones.

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