after a bad day, a sense of relief.
relief is undertheorized. it's good -- the pain has receded, you can think clearly again, moving is possible, life is possible -- but it's not simple. relief is not really the present; it's the fulcrum between a difficult past and a promising future. you could take the experience you've just had and use it to re-create yourself from the ground up. to feel relief is to bargain: i will drive more carefully, i won't drink red wine, i will stretch my muscles religiously. under the terms of relief, you could be anything. if everyday life rehearses st. augustine's plea 'lord, make me good, but not just yet,' relief puts us in the dizzying place where we are ready to be good, now: being better starts this instant, and lasts forever more.
but in addition to a sense of freedom, there is something else, something darker. relief is confusing, disorenting. i'm not surprised that people cry with relief; i'm one of them; i cry with relief. i weep because i can, because i am free enough from pain to focus on something other than the pain itself. i weep at how good it is to live without this pain, for now. pain is difficult; pain is unpleasant; pain is deranging and dismaying. it delimits your world. pain is infantilizing, offering the inchoate frustration of an infant, if also an infant's irresponsibility. pain is trying. and so to feel relief is to be through the trial, to have passed whatever kind of test the excruciation had in mind, to have made it to the next phase, but the complexity of relief has something to do with not knowing what that means, not knowing what the terms of the trial were, not knowing whether you "passed," and, if you did, what that means.
there is also, in relief, a sense of loss. i feel, "thank god that's over. i made it through." but i also feel, "something's missing, it's gone." think of the way you felt at the end of junior high, or when your child exits a difficult phase, or the moment you realize you are well and truly over someone. it's not that i want the pain back, not exactly, not even for the comforting way it grounds me in the moment. perhaps it's that every minor experience of relief puts us in touch with the ultimate sense of relief we know we're heading towards: freedom from these bodies, release from the tedium of human existence, the end of our own and others' suffering. in spite of the 'what's next' excitement, it's impossible to avoid suspecting that this, after all, was living, and there is no going back.