Zenith of Pain | Teen Ink

Zenith of Pain

May 27, 2021
By jwu000, Woodbury, Minnesota
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jwu000, Woodbury, Minnesota
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Author's note:

If the world had to define me in one word, it would be sinful.

My religious peers often denounced the seven deadly sins, calling them “banes of humanity” and “divine punishments of God”.

But it wasn’t until later that I would encounter these horrible curses, or rather my greatest gifts.

Instead of turning away from these condemned traits, I embraced them wholeheartedly:

Pride gave me the confidence to lead, the hope to stride into the unknown, and the fortitude to rise against challenge, allowing me to inspire team members as a leader.

Gluttony and lust gave me willpower and aspiration—an insatiable lust for discovery, matched only by my avarice for rational order.

Envy is the spark that drives competition; seeing those above me pushes me to work harder, drawing out the best in all those around me as we race to the top. It propels me to summit the tallest peaks in sight, guided by the hope that each peak is but a step upwards to my greatest potential.

Rather than the absence of action and the void of neglect, sloth pulled me to the contemplative roots of Taoism—of wu wei, of repentance, of ontology, of the wisdom to draw back from battle. Sloth, to me, is the elegant balance between prudence and onslaught, acting as a mediating voice of caution.

Wrath is the flash of all-consuming passion, coursing through me as Tchaikovsky springs from my fingertips and sprouts poke through the soil to welcome Spring. It is the bursts of energy, propelling my dreams into the world around me as I paint the skies with whimsical touches of fantasy. With its fiery strength, wrath breathes life into my imagination, tinting color into the gray plains of apathetic society.

And my signature, greed, is my lifeforce. I want the world. I want everyone around me to succeed, so I encourage their quixotic and seemingly far fetched dreams. Whether you deem me avaricious, ambitious, or selfish, I want to bathe in the warm ambient rays of mortality. I want to learn, to discover, to explore. I want to think, to be, to love. I want to live.

By defending my ‘divine punishment from God’ and standing against prevailing belief, I’ve learned to draw upon my inner strength, knowing that the only power vices possess are those granted by virtues. My ‘sins’ have given me a simple shift in perspective: no human traits are intrinsically godly or sinful; rather, it is human action that truly defines their merits. The wondrous nature of humanity lies in our free will—we cannot choose who we are, but we can choose the person we want to become.

My sins are meaningful to me because they show me that people aren’t defined by their attributes, only what they make of them. Wherever I go, I’ll encourage dreams and individuality—not selflessly, but because I wish to.

It’s a rather beautiful contradiction:

Being ‘sinful’ gives me awareness of everyone’s virtues. 

‘Miracle worker’. 

That is the name that they bestowed upon you, an honor that you feigned refusal for but accepted rather eagerly with the propagation of slight force.

The people paid you as a surgeon, and you saw yourself as a tool for wellbeing, but to everyone you were a hero—a divine blessing touched upon them to cure the horrible ailments thrust on them by the relentless demons of disease. 

You were the miracle worker, capable of healing the most lost of causes, bringing those wrongly labeled as ‘deceased’ back from the calloused clutches of death and into the warm glory of life. They applauded when you came. Their eyes sparkled with the heavenly light of hope, as if Elpis resided in you, and the cool reflection upon their eyes was but a pale reproduction of your brilliance. You were a saint, a savior, a deity. You were beyond mankind. You were a miracle worker.

You smiled at the praise while basking in the warm ambient rays of royalty, preaching to the human spirit and the will of mankind. You felt the flood of power-lust reach the confines of your ethicality, drowning your conscience in a debilitating battle of survival. Soon, you felt only one desire: to become a savior to all of mankind. You sought not to be only a miracle worker, but to surpass all of humanity. You sought to become God.

In the spiteful ruse of a Sunday morning, you burst in an empathetic shout at the base of a religious temple, declaiming God and rejecting religion as an ‘opiate of the masses’, suitable only for the ignorant and incompetant. You preached of evil and disease, and natural disasters. How could God allow such tragedies to happen? If the white-bearded man that sat utop heaven’s throne had the power to stop suffering and the benevolence to wish so, why would God refrain from doing so? You spoke of the children that have fallen before you with broken limbs, failed hearts, destroyed minds. In God’s infinite wisdom, you cried, how can this evil be left to run rampant? How can disease plague communities and tsunamis bombard civilizations? How can the rapacious licks of fire continue to spread flames of injustice and poverty? When you swept your eyes across the forming crowd, you found determination and respect matched by the gaze of awe, as if they saw the magnitude of the moment before its passing. 

With a sharp intake of breath, you uttered, “If there is no solution to evil, there exists NO benevolent God!” The snap of thunder rumbled overhead, but no rain poured. You continued, unfazed. “And if there is no benevolent God, there is no God worth worshipping. The God you love and pray to, the God you wish to accompany, is dead! God is no longer, and he will not save you anymore. It is time to save yourself!”

You glowed with a fiery aura as if you were alight with fiery passion. The rumbling of the thunder ceased, but it was soon replaced by the eerie calm of dread. Clouds hung overhead, casting murky shadows that seemed to lurk upon spectators. You continued to glow in the moment, powered by your revelation of God and  your grim acceptance to better the world with your own two hands. As you prepared to depart from the base of the now deserted temple, you heard the rough timbre of a voice grate the depths of your mind:

Benevolent? I do not recall ever stating that I was benevolent. Am I so narrow-minded, to only care for humans? You pathetic mongrels, forever begging for your own good, regardless of the demise to others. You deserve no ‘benevolent’ God to caretake your deepest impulses. You pray and pray, but do you ever do anything for anyone else? No. You have never felt true pain. Famine, diseases, poverty. These are but fragments of what the word entails, and you will experience them all. You, for your open insurrection, will suffer the zenith of pain. Time to save the world? I will be surprised if you retain the desire to save yourself. Do not test me, you filthy ‘miracle worker’. You, the parasites of the world, may not see me as benevolent, but you were right about my omnipotence. Before you speak so freely of pain, may you experience it firsthand.

In a flash, the sky clears, and the Sun beats down on the land, smothering the rocks of the temple in its radiant embrace. You found yourself kneeling, sobbing into the ground, your face pressed into the loose dirt. You found yourself praying to a God that would never answer you again. In a moment too instantaneous to warrant respect, your dreams were shattered like fragments of glass, never to be repaired. To you, like you had proudly preached just moments before, God was dead.

Days pass, and you come to find yourself anticipating the pause—the tranquil serenity that assuages you for a bittersweet moment before the debilitating pain arcs through your body. You noticed it quickly, as you resumed your research, only to realize that your divine encounter was not a trick of the light or a stimulus induced from overexertion, that you now carried the burden of agonous pain, and God would not relent until you fulfilled pain’s vengeful spite.

It started with little things. The pigs, on whom you used to test provisional shampoos, felt no pain as the viscous liquid kissed the tips of their eyes. You stood confused for a moment, wondering whether the pigs had lost neural function, or if the shampoo was the culmination of perfection that only a miracle worker could procure. You soon found your answer. 

A burst of pain coursed through your eyes, suffocating your mind in brief intense flashes. You felt the bitter sting of shampoo drizzle down your cornea and enter the recesses of your mind. You gasped, awash in the exhilarating pain of retribution. But in a flash, it disappeared, becoming the numbing sensation of bliss. The pain echoed into a mild discomfort, and the pigs watched you with unabashed curiosity. You dismissed it as the feeble descent of your mind into hallucinations. Later that day, you set the pigs free.

As much as you wished to ignore it, you could not remain quiescent and blissfully dormant as a doctor and researcher. You knew that it was no coincidence, and the universe seemed to resonate that, making sure to remind you of your curse to pain, as if you were shackled to that one emotion. It took a while to adjust at first, but you soon came into harmony with the surrounding life, letting them control you as they please, becoming infinitely cautious of your footsteps and surroundings. After the instinctive buzz and the flick of your hand led to a slap across your face, you began to wish for ignorance. But you were hopelessly perceptive, so you watched as the mosquitos danced upon your flesh, guzzling your blood greedily and rapaciously. And as they gourmandized over the glossy scarlet substance, you remained helpless to their bidding, lest your slap be matched by a divine fist.

You accepted your fate eventually, and once the crippling emotional degradation began to set, your strict scientific upbringing compelled you to design experiments to test the confines of your curse of pain. In a stroke of brilliance that rivaled the testament of ‘miracle working’, you collected specimens and began to work.

For the first experiment, you found a rat suffering from numerous ailments. When you touched it, you felt no pain, and only a burning empathy that remained resolute throughout the desiccation of your spirit. You prepared a needle doused with the most powerful pain relievers imaginable—drugs forbidden for their incredulous potency. They were the herbs taken by Spartans before they charged into battle and the leafy gauze smeared onto vikings as they surged into immortal onslaught.

You pressed the needle into the rat’s neck gently and it began to calm, its pupils expanding in apprehension as it glanced at you. You felt the pause, the same one you revered and abhorred, the slight breath of anticipation before the dam gave away and the coursing river of pain flooded through your oasis of relief. The sting of the needle pierced into your neck, digging deep the way cold metal rips through tissue. The bitter prick sparked for an amplified moment—dragged on as if you were drugged into a world without time—before it stopped into a dull ache. The rat glanced at you curiously, but you nod in understanding. The flood of painkillers never lifted you out of the drowning seas of pain, so the benefits of medical procedures could never be translated onto your body. In other words, physical pain was thrust upon your body, but nothing that would lessen your punishment could ever be translated to yourself. The previous ailments of others could not be translated to you, and the wicked boundaries of your confinement became starkly clear. Like a torturous curse of karma, you were subjected to be a sponge of pain, never allowed to release the pent-up sorrow. In a vain attempt, you stuck the needle into your leg, dreaming of the chemicals to cut away your neural synapses, rendering you unfeeling and free from stimulus. But the moment never comes. You still felt it. Every waking moment, that one word kept bouncing around your head, never letting you forget its malevolent strangle across your life. You still felt its endearing and spiteful presence, the one feeling administered to remind you of your survival, now threatening to take your life away: pain.

You seclude yourself from the medical field and all others, choosing isolation and abandonment over the entanglement of human interaction. You find that you cannot face their eyes—the eyes that once adorned your brilliance, blessing you as you walked by. You cannot face the sickly, the men who have lost hope, the crippled, as they beg you for remedies you can no longer procure. And so, as if ridiculing your helplessness, you are subjected to the horror of incompetence—cursed to watch your failed patients slip away into the unnerving abyss of darkness. You hold their bodies and a flood of regret surges forth: regret for your egotism, your blind rejection of fate, your horrid presence on others. The tears that once flowed so freely dried up in their well of apathy, and as you hold corpse after corpse in your hand, albeit with a slight discomfort, you feel little remorse. They say that pain makes you human. But with only pain, you have ceased to retain any humanity at all.

Months pass, and the isolation gives you a serene sense of identity. You are no longer reliant of others’ praise, and you find yourself performing the greatest of miracles: living harmonious with nature. Rather than upsetting the natural order and clutching life, you choose to embrace the minutes of living and accept the disappearance of the mind into the blank void of recurrence. You live on the outskirts of town now—just far enough to live a blessed life of meditation, but close enough to keep touch with your sister, your sole surviving relative and greatest friend. You are not envious of the joyous and carefree lifestyle she exudes, and you marvel at her tenacity, bouncing back even when the man she loved left her alone and pregnant. For some reason you cannot comprehend, she continues to bless the splendors of life and the cruel creator that had set the clock of time into motion. But then again, you think, only a caged bird ever yearns for freedom.

One day, a sudden message jolts you: your sister is about to give birth. You rush down the mountainside and into the village, blissfully stripped of pain, submerged into the soft embrace of utter happiness. When you reach her, however, your radiant smile of happiness, a face you had not worn for months, is soon replaced by the all-too-familiar mask of shock and pain.

Her body had swollen up, and little beads were forming around her soft almond eyes. She locks eyes with you, and the signal that it sent sent you into a debilitating world of despair, for she looked at you in your former glory. She sees you as the crowds did, so long ago. You feel the beating wings of Elpis flap and hang for a moment towards you, as if savoring the tension of agonous desire. And all at once, it comes flooding back to you, and you survey the scene. 

Your sister was facing internal bleeding during her birth, and an immediate C section had to be administered in order to save both her and the baby. With no other doctors around, you see the corners of your sister’s mouth tug into a weak smile. Her hope is contagious, and you are urged by the anxious urge to live, to save, to expel the world of its horrid terrors. You have been controlled by fear and shackled by pain for too long. You see the glorious halcyon light of remembrance, of inspiration and aspiration, of oneiric scenes depicting the beauteous rejoice of life. For a moment, your grotesque reality is blinded by the angelic light of will. This time, not for yourself, but for others, you change. Your eyes flash with the former brilliance of pulsing stars, and you return the brief flash of a smile. The miracle worker has returned.

However, right before you plunge the knife into your sister’s swollen skin, you feel the pause and its devastatingly accurate divination is enough to make you pause. In the briefest flash of a second, you see yourself blooming into a freakish display of scarlet and crimson, the red hues spreading from the center of your body as you are torn apart. You see the stains of blood dousing your lifeless body in fresh rivulets, splayed across the tiles on the floor. Like the poor subjects you once performed vivisection on, the primitive rush of survival threatens to force you into submission, and you quickly repel it with such anathema that your head is purged of weakness. You are appalled at your own indecisiveness, and though the deliberations have drowned you in a bout of agony, you surge onwards, preparing for your own vivisection. You imagine that this must be your final selfless act, your zenith of pain, so altruistic and godly in itself that the Gods would curry your favor. 

You smile defiantly, finally in control of your fate, and the prospect of being ripped in half does not dissuade you. For once, you bless the brief pause, as it will allow you to ensure your sister’s safety. You take in a deep breath, and raise the scalpel.

Suddenly, God appears again. You have not seen God for a long time, and the burden of your curse comes retaliating back to you in its agonous misery. You search his shifting cosmic eyes, powerful and bright, for compassion, for understanding, for peace. But you find only cold determination and sheer will, and you become stricken with the dark laces of terror. 

He glances at you as if scorning your impotence before speaking in the loud timbre that had so often haunted your dreams:

So you think you have found it? The zenith of pain? You have proven to me once again that humans are ungainly and bestial creatures, only feeling the stimulus of physical pain. You pitiful fool… to not understand that pain is derived from others!

In a flash, the voice is gone, but the sound keeps resonating in your ears. The words jump around in your head for an instant, and then your mouth gapes open in horror. You spin to face your sister, but your body is unresponsive, sluggish and useless. You wish for pain, for your vivisection, and you pray to an unreachable God for a lack of salience. Forgiveness is not strained, you plead. It falls as the gentle rain from heaven. There is no sound, and the dry thunderclaps that had come to plague your nightmares are abysmally silent.

You lash out as you try to move, but your hand feels so alien to you, so unrightfully yours. You see your sister swell and you are forced to look on in unearthing guilt, as if chthonic demons are peeling your eyes open. You see the crest of her body rise and fall in shallow breaths as her face turns pallid and pale. Your hand drops on her cheek, but you remain helpless as she begs for her miracle worker, her best friend, her brother. 

A cool stream falls into your palm, and you choke back the burgeoning waves of sorrow and debilitation. But you are cursed to watch, helpless and guilt-ridden, as the cheek in your hand slowly turns cold. The spell is broken, but you stand there frozen, unwilling to accept the conclusion that has been secured by your freedom. You do not know how long you stand, and soon thick rivulets of tears are running down your face. Your hand remains transfixed on her cheek, as if the act of its immobility could become a testament to her survival. But you see the lifeless body clutched in your arms, a body once filled with the radiance of life and exploration. For once, you understand the true zenith of pain in your helplessness. 

Before divinity, you crumple in incompetence. And so you pray to a God, one disinclined to your hearing, always taking a leap of faith for the things you wish are secure. True pain is the helplessness to save those you love. It is not indecisiveness, self-sacrifice, or mental bracing. And once you have embraced the nature of pain, you realize how insignificant you are. You are but a mere praying mongrel in the face of fate, of God, of the elite. But you still fight, hoping for a chance of reform that will never come to be. The acceptance of defeat, so brilliantly jarring when left to its own device, crippling in its embrace, is the true zenith of pain—to understand your futility and realize how purely condemned you are to be alive. So shout from the mountains that you are a miracle worker, that you can save anyone. But the one miracle you cannot perform, no matter how desperately you wish, is to forgive yourself. 


You hold your sister, and the way her body limps in your arms reminds you of the boy you could not save, the failed surgerys, and the hurt glances of betrayal at the miracle-worker’s defeat. But then, you already knew the truth. All along, the destitute glances you saw were only fragments of yourself.

You rest your head on the floor, broken, a corrosive shell of a man, one who glimpsed the nightmarish mask of reality and uncovered a face so monstrous that life itself lost meaning. For once, the pause of anticipation does not end, and though you hit yourself again and again, you do not feel any pain, and the dull slap slap slap  against your thigh only furthers your great remorse. You wish for pain, to feel what your sister felt as she slipped out of this world with her unborn child. You wish to take the burden of her agony, and feel the jolt that reminds you that you are alive. In its absence, you finally find it. Without sensation, you are embittered with the greatest pain. Frighteningly, grotesquely, magnificently, the absence of pain is its zenith.

A rhythmic tap begins to form, dotting the air with a curtain of rain. The shower is light, graceful even, forgiving in its descent from heaven. It masks your tears, washing away your remorse and regret.

And the Sun still shines through the rain, warming the air as its ambient rays are scattered into oblique tangents, a beacon of hope within the pitter-patter of sadness.

You don’t feel. You don’t move, and you don’t try to. The rain is light and understanding, soothing in its consistency. The Sun peeks over the clouds, and the air is filled with the tap of a rain devoid of thunder.

You kneel on the ground, and set the corpse of your beloved sister on her side, carefully closing her eyes.

And then you fall gloriously into the rain, helpless to nature’s whims and accepting the inability of man in the face of power. Against all odds, you find yourself in the comforting embrace of faith, putting your life in the hands of a God that is at times malevolent, at other times uncaring.

But could you really have known better or wished otherwise? You were just a miracle worker, fighting fate, crowning destiny to save your world. The savior of mankind, and you cannot find the will to save yourself. Why is it that the greatest must fall for the longest before they are returned to the apathetic grasp of normalcy?

You kneel on the soft earth, and the beams of sunlight surround you in a warm glow as the tears mask your infinite sorrow. The pitter-patter of rain watches you through the night. After a while, you press your forehead in submission to an unforgiving universe of fate. You kneel, long after the Sun sets into the horizon, and you pray. You pray for life, for salvation, for pain. You pray for those you have failed, those who are complacent, those who do not cherish life. 

But beyond all, you pray for one thing:

You pray that this curse of existence will be over soon.

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