Beyond the pain, something better?

There’s nothing like a little pain to give you clarity. I’ve got it in abundance — pain and clarity, that is — ever since I tore the anterior cruciate ligament and the lateral meniscus in my left knee.

I’ve enlisted the skill of an orthopedic surgeon to help get me better. Getting better does not, by the way, guarantee full recovery. It’ll never be as it was. It won’t be better.

Ever since this pain-in-the-knee happened to me (I’ll spare you the details, except to say that I won’t be running another marathon anytime soon), I’ve been asking myself, “Why did this happen to me?” Depending on my level of pain, which has ranged on a scale of 1 to 10 (doctors seem to love these scales) … from about 4 when I first tore it, to 15 a few days after the surgery, this question has varied in tone and insistence.

It was only during my worst pain that I realized I’d been asking the wrong question. Rather than “why,” I should have been asking “what” — as in, “what can I learn from this experience?” In today’s Oprah-infused parlance, it’s what might be called a teachable moment: taking something that might be difficult and using it as an opportunity to learn.

But do teachable moments need to be so physically painful? All it takes is a slight tweak in attitude.

This political season should also be a great teachable moment. But why does it have to be so mentally painful? The temptation is to tune out until all of the disingenuous gobbledy gook is over on Nov. 4. But then, we might miss a teachable moment.

Years ago, as a new arrival in this country, I thought that politics was a noble pursuit, and that the institution of democracy was humanity’s means to better the world. I still think that’s true; and I still love this country. But I have learned that, like every other kind of human pursuit, politics can be an ugly and painful game: party against party, candidate against candidate. Watching power play is painful, a 10 on a scale of 10, I think.

Of our national political system, no one is honest enough. It’s shallow, and it’s full of talking points. How different would this presidential race be if Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain talked to us, the voters, as though we were intelligent beings, without the coaching of their political pundits. I suspect those pundits advise their candidates to talk down to the American people. Even the economic crisis is treated as a political fact to be used for win or loss. Is it too much to ask a politician to give honest answers that will be followed through with meaningful action?

Equally painful, this pain-in-the-heart, is the realization that we are being lied to. The answers we hear are so full of focus-grouped inanities that I have given up trying to get straight answers and honest meaning from what’s being said. Instead, I focus on their body language.

We wish to be informed. Serious and painful times require serious thought — to serious questions and perhaps painful solutions to painful problems.

What we can expect to face in the upcoming economic slowdown will be painful. It will require cutbacks, sacrifices and changes in expectations until things get better. Getting better does not, by the way, guarantee full recovery. It’ll never be as it was. Maybe it will be better.