Our pains are life’s common denominator 

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

By Les Ferguson, Jr.


I was somewhere in the South Pacific, miles from land when I began my first remembered exquisite dance with pain. 

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A toothache to be exact. An incapacitating toothache. We didn’t have a dentist aboard our ship and were days out from our next port visit. 

The ship’s corpsman, not a doctor, but a trained medic, gave me a few pain pills and some muscle relaxers. But nothing worked and the pain became so severe that I was confined to my rack to try and ride out the waves, and we are not talking about the sea state. 

Did I mention I was in pain? It was so severe that I would literally sweat through my clothes in just minutes. There was absolutely nothing that eased the pain. 

If I’d had a serious accident or medical emergency, they would have done everything possible to get me to a medical facility. But a toothache? 

This was a warship in the US Navy. Suck it up, sailor. And I did up until the moment I sneezed. 

Sneezed? Yes, sneezed. 

As it turns out, I didn’t have a dental problem. I had a sinus problem, and every bit of pain and pressure disappeared when I sneezed.  

And just like that, I was back to my regular duties on the “World’s Finest Missile Cruiser” otherwise known as the USS Josephus Daniels (CG 27).

I have fond memories of that cruise around South America. Transiting the Panama Canal. Sailing through the fjords of Chili. Port visits in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and the great city of Rio de Janeiro.

That was a long, long time ago and some of the details of those days have faded over the years. 

But not the memories of the pain mentioned above. Nor have I forgotten the pain of calling home from the pier in Rio to learn that our then-youngest had been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. I bet you can deduce which pain hurt the most. 

But that would not be the last pain to make its appearance in my life. Losing grandparents. A wife and son who were murdered. Too many friends making their way far too early to the other side of the veil. 

Pain – of whatever source and duration – is in many ways the great equalizer or the common denominator of the human condition. And I admit freely that pain can be crippling to the body, mind, and soul. Be there, done that, and don’t want the T-shirt. 

But still, given time to process, time to heal, and time to find equilibrium and perspective, there is great beauty yet to behold in this world. There is much joy yet to experience in this life. 

Maybe you are in a place right now of despair and trying to hold on for dear life. I get that in spades – you are most assuredly not alone. However, at some point, if you endure, you’ll hopefully come to faith and trust in God that will lead you yet to the other side. 

“…Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning.”

(Psalm 30:5a CSB17)

May God’s beauty and grace surround you.

Write to Les Ferguson, Jr., at lfergusonjr@gmail.com