It was a good burn. It had been a while since I had breathed in the salty air rolling off the beach. One foot on the pavement, I felt the sting creep in. I inhaled deeply, letting the balmy breeze permeate my lungs and fill my head.
Venice, if you have never been, is quite an amalgamation of stimuli—from the people, to the sounds, and the smells, there is always something to soak in. To be honest, I am completely out of place in a beach town filled with people who are not like me but the great thing about Venice is that nobody really cares. Here was a place where a number of worlds collided in one long strip of beach that, more often than not, contained a trace of pot incense.
Over the course of the day, I mentioned to Kim and Tiffany that I had rented a documentary about four students at the Harvey Milk High School contrasted with the creation of a “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” tribute album. Although seemingly a bit random, the proceeds from the album went to supporting the Hetrick-Martin Institute (which, at the time, ran the high school). The existence of the Harvey Milk High School is a bittersweet one for me: on one hand I applaud the idea that we have set aside money for students to grow in a safe space but I also hate that we have to have such an institution in the first place. Why is that we even need to create an area for GLBTQ youth? Can’t get all of our teenagers to respect each other?
Watching the documentary, what struck me about these students was that they were physically much younger than I am, but also much stronger than I may ever be. These individuals were not yet out of high school but they had already walked down paths that I had yet to start. One girl ran away from home after being excommunicated from her church and established a life for herself independent of her family and, although happy, mentioned upon seeing her home that, “This is where I should have been.” Another transsexual girl mentioned that she knew cutting was not a good thing but that it relieved the hurt inside and sometimes she felt as though it was all she had. How do you react to something like that? I didn’t even know this girl and I felt so much sorrow for her.
Without a doubt, the students in the Harvey Milk High School had suffered and as I reflected on their experiences, I began to wonder if there was any truth to the phrase, “No pain, no gain”? American culture teaches us that we must work hard for our success and that the best victories are hard won. We often hear that we define ourselves in our weakest moments, or in the face of our mistakes. We know that growth in every sense involves some measure of discomfort—we never develop intellectually if we are not uncomfortable, if we aren’t challenged. Learning isn’t easy.
Maybe it’s only because we have suffered pain that we are able to connect to others? As we grow up we first look for a mate with no complications but then gradually shift to look for someone whose baggage goes with ours. And what is baggage if not an emotional scar? A place where we were cut and didn’t heal just right? Well, at least not yet? Or is love simply the experience of baring your biggest hurt to your partner? Surely that isn’t all there is to the emotion, but it’s hard to deny that, having done that, you don’t love someone just a little bit more.
Pain, in all of its forms, defines who we are as people—embrace yours and learn to use it as a tool to shape who you want to be.