12/18/2013 03:37 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2014

Over the River and Through the Woods: Passing Through Pain

The holidays have a way of triggering old pain points, particularly around the loss of loved ones. I am currently surrounded by several people who have very recently lost someone. I also have several people in my life very recently diagnosed with cancer. All of them are struggling with moving from their old "normal" to a brand new normal they didn't choose.

A few days ago a friend lost her only child, a daughter in her early 30s, who was herself a mother to a young son. That little boy will spend his first Christmas without his mom. My friend will spend her first Christmas without her baby since she was born three decades ago. How do we navigate through such tragedies?

With time, as we are all promised, the pain does lessen, but man, passing through it when it is dark and sharp and has its teeth in you is nothing short of brutal.

I recently wrote about a book I read that has given me some great tools during my first month of training for the LA Marathon: "Power Words" by Sharon Anne Klingler. I was using the power words and phrases suggested by the author and eased into my training with joy and relative grace. This week I stepped it up another notch and made up a new trigger phrase to use when I have one of the series of little pains that erupt during a long run: "Passing Through Pain." It focuses my mind on the run and away from the pain, which inevitably causes the pain to pass more swiftly.

As I was running the other night and was struck by a small but sharp pain I screamed into the cold dark air, hoping the pain would hear that I meant business, "Passing Throooooooough Pain!" In that moment I recalled walking through a sculpture by Jesus Rafael Soto entitled Penetrabile (Italian for "penetrable"). It was on display at LACMA last year. Situated between two buildings, from a distance it looked like a yellow room of some sort. As I neared I could see there were no walls, only yellow, soft latex tubes hanging from the top of the structure. I happened to arrive as a few people were leaving and I walked into it, soon discovering I was completely alone. It was remarkably quiet so I would know if someone entered so I found myself walking with my eyes closed feeling the soft hugs of the tubes on every side of me. Then I opened my eyes watching the light dance between and around the soft golden strands.

As I remembered this art installation while I ran, I thought of all the pains -- physical, spiritual, mental -- that we come up against during our lives that feel absolutely impenetrable. Some feel like the sculpture: You can weave through them relatively unscathed. But the loss of a child? Penetrating that pain is nothing short of a heroic feat of the human heart.

At some point the impenetrable jagged metal teeth of the grief retract, and we are spit out of the shark's mouth into the sea, riding the waves that come and go, taking us under from time to time, buoying us up at others. And, all our loved ones can hope for us is that our hearts become "penetrabile" once more. The Sandy Hook community seems to be committed to doing this for each other, which is breathtaking unto itself. Love can make that shark relax his grip.

We are all always passing through pain of some sort. I think we just need to remind each other about the "passing through" part, no matter how dark the inside of that shark's mouth or how tightly he holds us in his grasp.

To read more about Penetrabile by Jesús Rafael Soto at LACMA's blog: