70. What You Do with Your Pain

70. What You Do with Your Pain

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

What You Do with Your Pain

To understand everything is to forgive everything.


I didn’t even know your name. In 1975, I was thirteen and living in San Diego. Our family had just moved from Ridgecrest, a small naval community in the Mojave Desert where my stepfather had been stationed for three years. I remember being in the courtyard at Horace Mann Junior High School watching two boys play handball against the side of a building. I was mesmerized by the sight of the ball hitting the building’s sun-faded surface and bouncing off the blacktop, the swing of a brisk forehand, and the sound of the rubber ball ricocheting off a boy’s palm back to the wall.

I was only there a few minutes. The slap to my head came from behind me. It was sudden, unexpected and felt as if someone had pressed the flat of a scalding iron against my face. I turned to see you staring at me with sharp, piercing eyes. There was no expression on your face, but your cold, dark eyes dared me to retaliate. I didn’t.

I just stood there, motionless, my right ear and cheek burning from the force of your blow. But the shame inside me at being helpless to defend myself felt even worse.

You did it again that school year—four times, and I never told anyone, not even my parents, because I was too ashamed.

I’m now fifty-one years old, but that courtyard incident is seared into my memory. It never goes away. I don’t know why you hit me. Maybe it was because I was Asian and different, an outsider to the school, to the city. I was skinny, not athletic, and a loner. Perhaps I made for an easy target. I probably will never know why you chose to hurt me, but I can imagine you’ve known pain in your life, a lot of pain, to want to inflict that on someone else, on me.

Did someone slap you when you were a child? Someone older than you? Did you feel alone, powerless to make it stop? And did it happen again and again until you became so angry that you had to take it out on someone else? You needed to make someone, anyone, feel something you’d known throughout your life, didn’t you?

I felt that anger when you slapped me and challenged me to hit you back. The humiliation burned in me, molten hot and red, like an acid eating away at the core of my being. You hurt me.

And you hurt me again and again and again, just as you were hurt; that much I understand.

I hope you have made peace with yourself. I hope you have found some healing in your life because rage only leads to more pain, and I’m sure you and I have experienced plenty of that in our lives. Pain is something we share; I’m sure of it. It connects us.

I have felt alone, angry, powerless, as if the world doesn’t care, and no one is there to protect me. It’s a hollow, lifeless feeling. Nobody understands and nothing matters.

But you see, it does matter. What I do with my pain matters a great deal. If I shut it off and turn away, it will rear up again, unexpectedly, like a blow to the head on a school courtyard. But if I am honest, and I dig deep, and I write, I find I can express my pain. I can share it, and it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. I know I’m not alone.

And what you do with your pain matters because it can affect someone else’s life. Those slaps occurred almost four decades ago, but I remember them as if they happened this morning.

I hope you have found healing for your pain. I hope there are people in your life to reach out to, someone to listen to you with kindness, understanding, and compassion. I pray for that because it’s the only way for the pain to stop.

~Raymond M. Wong

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