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PAIN CAN BE A GOOD THING. REALLY.

"Pain is a gift.''

Those were the words that came out of the pastor's mouth at church last week, and even though we'd just heard a Gospel reading about a couple of Jesus' more noteworthy healings, I was a bit startled.

Sure, it would be awesome to be wandering around somewhere near the Sea of Galilee, afflicted with deafness and a speech impediment, only to run into the Son of God and have him fix you right up. That's a gift, and no need for a bow and card.

But pain? A gift?

I looked around at my fellow worshipers in St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral to see what the reaction might be. It was the gray heads - the people I assume know the most about the subject - nodding in apparent agreement.

"Pain is a gift,'' repeated the Very Rev. Stephen B. Morris. "But like any gift, it is what we do with it that determines its usefulness.''

Now I was getting it. By the time we were lining up for Communion, I was thinking about a conversation I'd had a couple of days earlier with Carolyn Leonard, whose story you'll read on Page 19. Carolyn took her pain over her husband's sudden death and turned it into action, changing her habits to restore her own health, and telling her story to help inspire others to do the same.

Proving that, yes, pain can be a gift.

Then I was reading the story you'll find on Page 10 about headaches, and why you shouldn't just pop a pill every time your temples start throbbing. Pain might be telling you there's something wrong other than an ibuprofen deficiency. Which could be a gift, if you do something constructive about it.

But what about our cover story today? Where is the gift in the pain of trying to determine whether your child is too sick to go to school?

Good question. So I'll rely on the pastor's words again: It all depends on what you do with it.

Being a very fortunate kid who never got anything worse than strep throat, I have fond memories of my mom propping me up on the couch with a schmear of Vicks VapoRub under my nose, watching TV game shows. Mom stayed nearby, generally working away at the ironing board in between taking my temperature and feeding me chicken soup and ginger ale.

On occasion, I'd claim illness rather than face whatever adolescent angst waited at school. Mom would feel my forehead, raise an eyebrow, but then declare I was old enough to know how I felt.

No ginger ale on the sofa for these days, however. Instead, she'd hand over the iron and the can of spray starch.

Which made school seem like a good idea.

Now that's a gift.

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