The Pain {Book Club}

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One of my family’s favorite movies is Cool Runnings. It’s a fictionalized account of the first Jamaican bobsled team to compete in the Olympic Games. Junior is the wealthy team member. He’s young and inexperienced in the world, and he has a stereotypical overbearing father. Junior’s father has mapped out Junior’s whole life – exactly everything he needs to do to be successful like his old man. The plan does not include being in the Olympics. Junior’s father was a classic rags to riches via hard work story, and he believes his choices are the only way for Junior’s future.

Junior goes against his father’s wishes. His father discovers this and flies to Calgary to bring Junior home, but Junior finally tells his father that his choices aren’t best for Junior.

I see this dynamic in this week’s section of The Giver. Only, instead of son and father, we’re looking at current people and generations “back and back and back.”

There had to have been some kind of apocalypse in their distant past – all dystopian worlds have one. Finally, the Giver tells Jonas that centuries ago, overpopulation led to hunger, which led to starvation, which led to warfare. Every decision that was made in setting up and governing the community has been done to prevent that from happening again.

Initially, Jonas still believes that the way of the community is best. I loved the part when Jonas and the Giver were discussing how chaotic the world would be if people could make their own choices. At first, Jonas thought that choice was a good thing, better than the Sameness. The Giver suggested that, given the freedom to choose, people might make the wrong choice.

“Oh,” says Jonas, “I see what you mean…We don’t dare to let people make their own choices.”

Earlier, Jonas had experienced some pain in the form of sunburn, but in this section, the Giver gives Jonas memories of more intense pain. This is what the Chief Elder warned him about, even though she herself had no idea what pain is. Jonas begins to feel the isolation of being the Receiver.

They have never known pain, he thought. The realization made him feel desperately lonely, and he rubbed his throbbing leg.”

For encouragement, after a memory of pain the Giver gives Jonas good memories. His favorite is a memory of love.

In The Four Loves, CS Lewis wrote:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

I don’t know whether Lois Lowry read CS Lewis, but the events in The Giver agree with him on this point. In the community, it seems the pills they take to eliminate “the stirrings” also neutralize every true emotion. They have given up everything beautiful, including love. Jonas’s mother described it as, “a very generalized word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete.”

It’s easy to be critical of neutralizing love in order to create a world without pain. When I sit with this for a minute, however, I realize that this is a natural human response. After experiencing emotional pain, we withdraw. We are reluctant to be vulnerable again, even if it means that we won’t be able to experience love. In the midst of the pain, love doesn’t seem worth it.

So we try to have superficial relationships, holding each other at arm’s length – trying to avoid both loneliness and vulnerability to pain. And the community creates family units that have no real connection to each other, but share superficial feelings at dinner time each day.

Join me in the comments! What’s catching your attention in this part of the book? How far do you go to avoid pain? How do you respond to other people making choices for you?

P.S. Next week we will discuss the last part of the book: Chapters 19-23.

In August we’ll be reading Britt-Marie was Here! You’re in for a treat, as Book Club founder Amy Young is coming back to guest-lead this book for us!

Photo by McKenna Phillips on Unsplash


  1. Michele July 22, 2019

    I definitely relate to this section and your comments on it. It’s the VA community that opened me up to the concept of ‘cumulative loss’ and gave me a name for what had sent me into a long season of ‘numbness’. It’s not that I didn’t feel at all, but I had tried to rush through a grieving process a few years ago, and I remember that I thought I was okay, because I had to be okay, but here and there I’d realize maybe I wasn’t. One of the first and biggest clues was when I was in a training program in an area of absolutely incredible natural beauty- I was aware of the beauty and grateful for it, but I wasn’t touched or ‘stirred’ by it the way I normally have been. I knew then that something was off. Later I also found that I wasn’t able to love like I had in the past. Self-protection is costly for an individual, but Lowry’s description of a whole society taking it to this extreme gives that danger a greater perspective.

    On another note, I just happened to have time, finally, to browse the library in America for summer reading and remembered Fredrick Backman, and ended up checking out Britt Marie Was Here! I checked out another book, which I’m reading first, so I’m excited to read this one together! Yay!

    1. Rachel Kahindi July 29, 2019

      Thanks for sharing. I think a lot of us can relate to that.

      I’m excited for Britt-Marie, too! Just picked it up yesterday. 🙂

  2. Michelle July 23, 2019

    So much to think about in this section of the book. Choosing to have your eyes open and be awake to life brings so many changes. Both love/joy/fullness and pain/suffering/grief. You can’t really have one without the other. Ultimately I believe that the pain and loss are worth having love and joy in our lives. Glad that I came along for the ride in this round of book club! I read Britt Marie last year and hope to skim through it again with you next month.

    1. Rachel Kahindi July 29, 2019

      It really is worth it. What is life without feeling?

  3. Abigail Zhao July 23, 2019

    This is so good and true. For me, team dynamics from the season we just left have really affected me. I feel very reluctant and careful about what I share with new people I will meet on the field. Because some of my very simple actions, things I said, and the way I communicated things were used to judge my very character, without giving me any hint this was happening. To be fair, each of us probably equally was responsible for not addressing these things and letting frustration gather for months and months. So I’m trying to own and apologize for my part in things, to move on. Excited to return to our field next month for a time, and also thankful not to be with that unhealthy team anymore. I don’t want to go into the next season closed off to new or deeper relationships with those I know and will meet. Not sure yet how to reconcile all this.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann July 24, 2019

      Wow, that sounds so hard and painful, Abigail! It’s hard to allow our hearts to heal from those kinds of painful experiences and learn to trust again. I’m not sure we can ever completely relate the way we did before because our hearts will always bear those scars. But I hope that going back and building new relationships will be part of the healing process for you.

    2. Rachel Kahindi July 29, 2019

      It takes time, I think, to begin to open up again after experiences like this. We need healing before we can be vulnerable again – like wearing a cast while a broken bone heals.

  4. Sarah Hilkemann July 24, 2019

    I have spent a lot of the last 8 months wishing that I didn’t have to feel pain and putting up walls to protect myself from getting hurt further. But reading The Giver has been startling and I’ve been thinking again about the range of our emotions and how they can be a gift. I was just chatting this week with someone about how our feelings can be messy and untrustworthy because we are human, and yet they also are meaningful and we should compassionately pay attention to them. I don’t like experiencing pain- whether it’s the ache of a broken heart or a terrible sunburn- and yet it comes with a whole range of other emotions including joy and contentment and excitement. And love. It was hard for me to even picture emotions and feelings being regulated so much that Jonas had never experienced the kind of pain that the Giver showed him. This is my first time reading The Giver and it is definitely going in directions I wasn’t expecting!

    1. Rachel Kahindi July 29, 2019

      Totally not what I was expecting either!

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