Pain is the Best Teacher

“When I look back on my life, I see pain, mistakes and heartache. When I look in the mirror I see strength, learned lessons, and pride in myself.” UKNOWN

Pain is the best teacher and when I first fell in love I got an F minus.  Her name was Madeline and we were nine years old. I was crazy about Madeline. Maybe because she was pretty, maybe because she was smart and popular, but probably because she was the only girl that wasn’t mean to me. She didn’t pick on me. I was new to Canada with a heavy accent and I didn’t speak English very well. She even shared her pudding with me! Pudding was the gold standard of food trading in my school and she just gave me hers! So in my mind, that was it – this was the girl I was going to marry and have kids with.

And so, I worked up all the courage I could. I walked into the lunchroom and of course, Madeline was sitting at the cool girls table and as I walked towards her, I wanted to just run away scared.  But I was determined and when I got to the table I looked at her shyly and said “Hey Madeline, can we talk outside?”

Madeline was shocked and all the other cool girls went “Ooooooh.” Again, I just wanted to run away,  but she said, okay.

We stepped outside the lunchroom and the school was busy. Teachers and students were walking past us but not really paying any attention.

So I looked up at Madeline and down at my feet and told her “I think you are really, really, really cool. And I was wondering if you would like to go to the movies with me?”

She was about to give me her answer and I swear she was going to say yes but then something horrible happened.

Three of my friends that I told I was going to ask her out jumped out into the hallway and yelled in front of everybody;“Give him a chance! Say yes! He’s a keeper!” They were so loud that everybody in the hallway stopped and the lunchroom went quiet. Everyone was staring at us. Nobody was moving and nobody was talking. My face went bright red.

Madeline was shocked and embarrassed and blurted out “Um, no thank you.” She turned around and walked away.

My heart broke and I ran to the main office and half sobbing, half yelling blurted out “Call my mother! It’s an emergency!”

The secretary was concerned and asked why and just replied “Just call her!”.

My mom panicked, left work and jumped in a taxi to come get me. When she arrived, I was a mess and my mom was trying to calm me down “Baby, what happened? Please tell me who hurt you.”


My mother, a former KGB agent (legit – she really was), asked “Where does she live? What happened?”

“She broke my heart. I asked her out and she broke my heart. She said, no!” Looking up at my mom I thought I was gonna get a big hug from my mom or some tender and comforting words.

Instead, I looked up and my mom looked angry.

Her eye twitched and she responded with “This is why I left work! I could be fired! We barely have any money and I had to take a taxi!”

I started crying even more. “Mom, you don’t understand. I love her. I love her and I’m never going to love again.”

My mom started laughing. Again, that was not what I was expecting and I got angry. “Why  are you laughing?”

“Baby, that’s not going to be the last time.” That was not comforting at all and I burst into tears. “It’s not going to be the last time you love again.”

My mom remembers and still likes to remind me that after she told me I would love again, I wiped the tears from my eyes, and looked up at her with both pain and confidence in my eyes and told her “You don’t know what love is.”

There were two lessons I could have learned from that experience. The first lesson was that I was brave. I was nine years old and went up to the most popular girl in school and asked her out. It doesn’t matter if she said no, who cares? I should be proud of myself.

Unfortunately, that was not the lesson I learned. My mom’s voice and the painful experience echoed in my head. That taught me to not open up. To avoid pain, don’t ask people out. Don’t be vulnerable. From the time I was about 9 years old to about 24, I avoided asking girls out, even when it was obvious that a girl was interested in me. I avoided it because I wasn’t confident and didn’t want to experience that pain again.

I’m not blaming my mom or the circumstances. I just wish that I took a better lesson from that pain.

So pick a lesson that actually helps you move forward. A lesson that doesn’t close your heart to the world, to people. You don’t get to pick your pain but you do get to pick your lesson. That’s what I’m learning.

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