Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This is but the tip of the iceberg

Tonight, it is hot and humid. The weather makes me think of New York City and the first summer I lived there. I could not sleep in the heat and I would find myself walking for hours. I was inconsolably lonely.

When I saw couples who looked like lovers my heart would ache. Groups of people eating at open air cafes caused me enormous pain. I was sure, at the age of 18, that I would never join the rest of humanity in any of these pleasures. But I knew that I wasn't alone in my suffering. Sitting in a hot subway car in the midst of a New York City summer, one could not help but notice the abject misery of the face of almost every other passenger. This did not give me pleasure. My misery did not love company.

I sometimes thought that my plight (which sounds so melodramatic) was absurd. I was afraid to speak to others. I wasn't afraid of appearing foolish. I just had no idea what to say. I felt like there was an invisible wall between me and other people, made out of glass, that would shatter and harm me if it was broken. I also could read this fear (and longing) in others and sometimes wondered how the world would be if all this fear were suddenly erased. That sense of aloneness that I saw in the city - poof! - it would vanish.

There is an invisible wall that surrounds most people. It keeps others at bay. It keeps others from knowing us. It is constructed out of fear, not glass. Most of us are afraid of being known. We are afraid of letting other people see who we really are. Or more to the point, we are afraid of other people seeing us as we see ourselves, which, for most people, is a construct made up of conditioned beliefs and delusions. Underneath our polite exteriors, so many of us think we're akin to monsters. We can't let anyone know that!

Perhaps it's not that bad, but we can't let anyone see how insecure we are. People with Ph.D.s hide their fear of appearing stupid under talk composed of large words that let you know how smart they are. Men use their size and strength to protect the scared child inside. Women get breast implants to steer you away from how ugly they feel. The list is endless. We go to enormous lengths to do a kind of bait and switch in order to hide the parts of ourselves we don't want others to know.

And if we don't do the bait and switch routine, we might engage in the act of being offensive, in our behaviors and even in our presentations to the world (bad hygiene would be an example) that says clearly "stay away". Then we can say "Oh, look - I'm not accepted in this world."

Perhaps none of this works. It's just all too much, too hard, too painful to live with the vicissitudes of life, with the false notions we have of other peoples' judgments (and the real ones, too). Then we may choose to numb ourselves. We drink, take drugs, overeat or become obsessively involved in solitary activity.

I ask you. What is so scary? What if someone found out you were insecure? What if you said something stupid in the course of a conversation? What if someone doesn't like you?

What's the big deal? The world will not come to an end. The invisible wall will not shatter and destroy you (or the person who doesn't like you).

Life is just too damned short to live with all this fear. Too short. We think, at 18, we'll be over it by 21, and then we put it off until we're 30, and perhaps come to think we've got way too much on our plates, so at 40 we're still living with our childhood fears. . .and on and on. Before you know it, you will be dead.

Painting note: Bull's Eye by Kazuya Akimoto 2003
I have some idea why I chose this image for this post, but words fail me. Perhaps that's good, for you can come to your own conclusions.

1 comment:

Country Mouse said...

These last two posts are so melancholy Julie. My first response was to try and say something uplifting - it's hard to watch the painful emotions rise to the surface. But you're right, we need to sit with the negative feelings, fear and loneliness. The awareness is what allows us to travel through the pain and accept it - accept it now and when it rises again. I thank you for writing about these difficult topics and doing it with such grace. It helps me feel less alone. Thank you once again.