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John Timpane

John Timpane moves easily from poetry to science, from writing editorials on education and politics to voicing radio essays on the meaning of Lent or the beauty of language. He's been an editor, columnist and reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer since 1997 and his books on reading and understanding poetry and architecture are still making the rounds on Amazon. In this essay, John Timpane shows once again how he's able to translate real experiences into metaphysical musings.

I believe in pain and healing. More than ever since I wrecked my leg last December. Slipped and fell in an ice storm while walking the dogs. Ripped out all available tendons. Tore muscles right off the bone, with a rich, delicious snap.

Pain focuses us on the things of our lives, slippery front steps, driveway slopes, sitting down, getting up, dogs, chairs, beds, distances from here to there. Always, there's a message attached. You messed up. Don't do that again. Something's wrong. Fix it. Life may or may not have meaning, but pain almost always does. Pain is an excellent teacher.

Healing carries much the same message. Right now, if you touched my injury, you'd feel it's warm and swollen. A lot's going on under the skin, that mystery, that miracle, of tissues and joints and muscles under repair, getting replaced, getting stronger. Factory at full blast: chemical signals speeding through the bloodstream, cells and materials migrating and aggregating. There's building. There's improvement.

With healing come scars. Scar tissue is not as strong as what it replaces, but it's pretty good. We never recover all the way; always, a trace of the damage remains. There's no such thing as all better, as good as new. But when you get 90 percent back, you're so grateful that it feels like 110 percent. Like pain, healing is linked to the innermost secrets of our physical and spiritual lives. Like all such secrets, we know them as intimately as we know ourselves, yet we can't understand them, not really. Pain and healing bring us right next to the ultimate in ourselves. God lives in pain and healing, and in the story they come to tell us: That after damage, there is a life on the other side. And that life can be different.

Deep down, we don't really believe it - that beyond damage, there's another side. Pain ties us so deep into the present that we can't imagine any other state. And, yes, for some, there is no other side: the damage can't heal. But think about it: all of us now living are living on the other side of something. We have suffered in the past. We have known damage. And here we are, if not stronger, at least alive and different. After damage, there is another side, and that is where we live.

Pain and healing teach us to work toward the other side. Our bodies and spirits tell us there can be a future. Look at the scars on your knees. They'll tell you.

Today, I can walk, with pain, but I'm walking. A while ago, I couldn't, but now I can, and I will walk better soon.

I believe in pain and healing.