The Pain of this Moment: Powerlessness and Perseverance


About twenty minutes in, I was begging my husband to let me shut it off. I’d rather watch third-string Saturday evening crime dramas than have to bear the pain and frustration of this movie for another minute. He was fascinated and watched intently even as I squirmed on the couch beside him.

Based on a true story, The Changeling is a film that threatens to tear you in half as you witness relentless power of the the heartless, misogynistic political and legal machine that was 1920s Los Angeles. The police return a stranger to a mother whose son has been kidnapped, forcing her to claim the impostor as her own and question something that should never be questioned: her ability to know her own child. When she refuses to break before their authority and continues to protest that her son is still out there, missing, the authorities do everything to discredit her: declare her selfish, unfit, conniving, insane. To watch the sadistically manipulative power of the doctor at the state mental institution to which she is committed is maddening beyond belief.

The more I wanted to leap out of my skin the clearer it became that a) this was quite the movie if it could get to me in this way, and b) there was something in the plot that I had to face in myself.

What was it that challenged me the most? Powerlessness? Ruthlessness? Unreasonableness? Arrogance? Wanton blindness? Humanity’s ability to be inhumane? The value of the establishment over the dignity of the individual?

They all combine to be a bitter, bitter cocktail, but it is the first sin on that list that made me want to run from the spectacle of suffering before me.


So many modern self-help texts and teachers talk about the way to personal empowerment. It is a clever enough buzzword that is as essential as it is destructive. Victimhood does not serve us at all; we all have to drop the chains of the beleaguered party in order to take full responsibility for our lives. At the same time, it is an illusion of sorts to believe that we have power over every aspect of our lives. To believe in a higher power is to know that we do not hold all of the cards, even those that directly influence our own fate.

And yet, I find myself warring against my feelings of powerless all the time. Right now, one of the greatest challenges I struggle with each day is watching my husband grimace from the constant back pain that has marred our lives for the last two straight months. The shooting nerve pains that keep him from sleeping, sitting, and standing in peace have sapped the joy and ease out of life. As a wife and as a healer, I constantly struggle with the fact that my will to fix him and my fervent prayers for his recovery have offered negligible results. I know that he bears the infinitely greater burden, but I find myself wrapped in my own vicarious hell as I mourn the easy laughter and decry my own abilities and those of a benevolent God to offer him some relief.

changeling-rainTo watch Angelina Jolie’s character struggle with seemingly indomitable forces who cared nothing for her story or for the truth was to see a dramatized life-or-death version of my own battles. I don’t want to give away too much of the film, but I will say that I am left with the awareness that life offers neither pure victory or utter defeat. There is joy and hope in every moment, and we must chose that over limitation and agony.

I have not conquered all of the self-pitying parts of me that believe that my husband and I are a four legged Sisyphus, pushing against his pain only to have it well up again each morning. But to look at that thought in writing makes me tired of my own defeatism.

There is a link between powerlessness and the ability to accept reality as it is at this very minute. I need to think through that connection more deeply, but I believe that the way forward for me is accept that this hurt exists for him and that it affects me deeply, but that the pain in this moment does not mean that every other moment that follows will be marred in the same way.

5 thoughts on “The Pain of this Moment: Powerlessness and Perseverance

  1. Lisa February 22, 2009 / 1:53 pm

    This is an amazingly POWERFUL post! Your writing is incredible! I never cease to be awed by your insight and use of the English language to convey such meaningful and relevant wisdom.

    I’m sending healing energy to you and your dear hubby today. (And a huge does of POWER to go with it!)

  2. Blisschick February 22, 2009 / 3:23 pm

    Excellent stuff, Marisa.

    Last night, we had dinner with friends. One woman is the wife of a dear man who is probably down to mere months left in his life. He is 56 years old. I spoke to her about his fear, the part of the whole thing that bothers me the most.

    He has no faith in anything and she has lost the little she had.

    I feel powerless to help them.

    And I am. That is my point and something I am struggling with so much lately.

    No matter how much faith I have, I cannot GIVE them faith.

    No matter how much I believe in power, I cannot GIVE them my belief.

    I cannot change them. I cannot help them. They can only do this for themselves. This is their path, a path covered in stumbling blocks that are THEIR lessons, just like the rest of us.

    I hope this makes some sort of sense to you…

  3. Sunrise Sister February 23, 2009 / 3:01 am

    Wow this post is beautiful. I have toyed with renting “The Changeling” somewhat fearful of all the feelings you describe in your post being purposely plopped in front of my face – confident that I can withstand the affront – I mean it’s only a movie right? But they are never “only movies.” That’s the magnetic pull for us the viewers. Can we watch and imagine our own part of the script, can we watch and imagine our own real role in life.

    You have beautifully painted both the movie’s affect on your feeling of powerlessness and your feeling of powerlessness in your real life role. Your last summary sentence is a beacon of hope to me who has read this and I suspect to those who meet you every day.

    I look forward to reading more of your powerful posts.

    • girlwhocriedepiphany February 23, 2009 / 7:51 am

      Dear Sunrise Sister, Welcome! Thank you for you kind words. I often play that game with myself – “it’s only a movie” – but then I realize how much I believe in the power of fiction and story. If I know how much of myself goes into the effort of crafting plots and stories, and how there are essences of me and my story sewn throughout, I can never escape into “it’s just…” Investing in the power of creativity at one level forces you to be involved at many, many other levels. If we want the joys of being swept away by delicious epic, we also have to give a little bit of credence to the monsters under the bed (or something like that – it’s early!). Blessings and gratitude, Marisa

      Dear Bliss, It makes complete sense. And for you, from the outside looking in with a heart full of God, you not only feel the pain of his illness, but the pain of all what they lack – the sustaining and comforting power of the Divine. It becomes so hard for the communicators like us, the ones bursting forth with all of these epiphanies and discoveries – we’re so overcome by their power it is so hard not to get completely stymied by those for whom God is just another story that we tell… Blessings and strength and assurance that you are being the best friend they could have, Marisa

      Dear Lisa, Thank you so much! It means so much that my words weave the webs they are meant to. And we can take all the healing energy we can get! The nightly ritual of Reiki on the couch seems to be doing something, but temporary relief is all for now. Do we really even NEED sciatic nerves?? xox Marisa

  4. Painterofblue February 24, 2009 / 9:09 pm

    This is a really beautiful and moving post. I love the message of hope at the end: “that the pain in this moment does not mean that every other moment that follows will be marred in the same way.” I will remember that. Thank you.

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