Two years ago I spent 3 months on a wilderness expedition. One day after hiking for 10 hours, bushwhacking through dense brush and carrying a 40-pound pack on an injured shoulder, I crawled to the top of a tundra hill and collapsed in tears.
The physical pain I felt was only a catalyst for releasing the tears; I was crying about a wealth of pain that I had carried within me, years of pain that had never been released to the light. I cried so hard I almost passed out. I started hyperventilating and had carpopedal spasms: my face, chest, and extremities grew numb and froze into grotesque configurations from lack of carbon dioxide. My clothes were wet through with rain, and as I shivered my way to hypothermia, two of my friends undressed me and put my arms into a dry fleece. They coached my breathing to unlock my muscles so I could stand and walk. My hand was taken and I was led through the blur of tears and tundra to a waiting dinner; my bowl was filled with food, even though our rations were scarce.
That night was one of the major turning points of my life. As I dug deep within me to excise every painful thing that held me back, my tears became half pain, half rejoicing. It was the end of wounding and the beginning of healing. I wept so hard that I seemed to dissolve into the universe; the pieces of myself fell like stars from the sky, and were caught by my friends, the tundra, the mountains and river. I didn’t know what would follow, who or what I would be when the tears ran dry and had carried away all the fragments of me.
The next morning my backpack felt a hundred pounds lighter, and I found my answer in the eyes of a friend who had endured his own twisted trials. He beamed at me in a brilliant smile, and I recognized for the first time what had always been in the shining of his eyes: a kindness that comes as the legacy of pain.