I took the opportunity to fly up to Portland this week for work and got to connect with a couple old and new friends. A topic of discussion was drug addiction. Having had people close to me become addicted to various drugs and follow strikingly similar patterns to each other, I’ve been forced to think about it too much.
One of these similarities appears to be a desire to deny oneself pain. It’s a precarious philosophical position.
Pain is a critical conduit for finding better things. There’s a body of research that connects depression and creativity – and you would probably find a strong correlation between brilliance and suicide (e.g. Hemingway, Robin Williams). Mental anguish forces us to higher ground in other domains.
Musicians from 50 Cent (Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain, Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain) to Modest Mouse (If life’s not beautiful without the pain well I’d rather never ever even see beauty again) explore the merits of the duality of good and bad things happening.
Don Quitoxe ends with the word “vale,” a Spanish word that roughly means “ok” or “cool” as we might use it before saying goodbye to somebody. I wrote about my experience reading the book here, but the word choice is interesting in this context because of what else in can mean. The idiomatic translation for the English “it’s worth it” is “vale la pena” – it’s worth the pain.
Whether or not Cervantes meant it this way, it’s fitting to how the story ends and the realities life hands us. Pain happens, but it’s worth it. Being numb to those things – physically or mentally – is to forfeit the opportunity to feel actual, serendipitous highs.