Late night TV has been a recent guilty pleasure of mine. I mean, when they lead off with old episodes of HIMYM (you know, the better episodes), and follow up with Friends, how can you turn away? A few nights ago, they followed Friends with a few episodes of Monk. In one of those episodes, I learned something about pain.
Honestly, I’ve always known this about pain, but always struggled to see it in a positive light. This episode of Monk started out in typical fashion: crime scene that demands Monk’s detective powers, something weird triggers Monk’s OCD tendencies (a double rainbow and they weren’t equal in size), and some teasing or jokes from Monk’s fellow detectives. This time, however, his assistant, Natalie, told him that she was sorry for him and everything he misses out on (such as the beauty of a double rainbow).
It stuck with Monk and when he ran into someone else who used to see the same psychiatrist as he did and once Monk saw how happy this other guy was, he felt jealous. He later told Natalie that he wanted to be better – that he wanted to see the beauty in a double rainbow and be as happy as the other guy. And so, when Natalie couldn’t stop him, he went to see the hypnotist that the other guy had recommended.
This hypnotist “treated” Monk by having him relax and think back to a time before things started going traumatically wrong – losing his wife Trudy and getting made fun of for being unable to climb a rope in a middle school gym class. Monk had gone back in his memory to a stage in his life when he was happy. Or at least, that’s what the hypnotist wanted him to think. What it actually was, as Monk’s regular psychiatrist pointed out, was a wishful happiness – a happiness he wanted to be true, but wasn’t. Not when he was seven years old, nor in his current day. He was trying to live a false reality.
By avoiding his own traumatic experiences, Monk felt happy. But, as the other detectives and Natalie quickly realized, he wasn’t able to help them solve the crime. He still paid attention to the fine details and could sense when some things weren’t lining up, but because he was so focused on living his false reality, he couldn’t bring all the pieces together. In other words, without the painful reality of losing his wife, Monk wasn’t himself. Parts of his personality and abilities were still there, but only in brief glimpses. Without that trauma, Monk wasn’t whole. Monk was a pretend version of his seven-year-old self in a middle-aged body.
No, this isn’t my way of explaining why bad things happen to good people. Instead, I’m saying if/when that bad stuff happens, it becomes a part of who we are. We can run from it and play in whatever imaginary world we want to, but until we embrace that pain and thereby acknowledge reality, we will never be whole. We will never be able to do what we were meant to.
Our pain, as terrible and unjust as it is or was, is a part of who we are. It isn’t the whole of us or even the most important, but without it – without dealing with it and accepting the scars – we aren’t complete. Whatever we might do from that point forward depends on what we do with what’s happened to us – even if it’s something we may have caused.
Monk eventually came back to reality. Oddly enough, he did so when the murderer pointed out to him that he had been chewing a piece of gum that had been on someone’s shoe. But, nevertheless, he abandoned the false, “happy” reality and accepted the painful one. When that happened, he was able to piece things together and solve the case.
“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” – Luke 22:41-44
Jesus was so petrified of what he would eventually experience that he begged God to remove it from him. Yet, by deferring his will to God’s, he enabled himself to achieve that which he was meant to: lay down his life for the sake his friends so God could raise him up. Had he pursued the route everyone else wanted him to take, he would have pursued an imaginary one – one that would allow neither him, nor God to do what they were meant to: rescue creation.
Whether we’re solving crimes or telling our kids a nine-year story of how we met their mother, we will never be complete without addressing our own trauma. Some experience more traumatic things than others, but we all experience something that hurts – be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Until we acknowledge that pain, we will be chasing after false realities.
May we all face our hurt and let God help us through it.