There are markers in life, much like creases in a paper back novel where the binding has been scarred, pointing out the more profound moments where we pause, linger and think.
Perhaps these markers serve a purpose—branding some teachable moments that grip us and hold us down until we succumb to the lessons we ought to learn. I think these markers exist, too, so that we may return to these moments in time and quarry lessons that we may not have been ready to learn when they first occurred. Time, it seems, wields magical powers that discards debris, leaving only that which is purposeful behind for easy discovery when we most need it, though seldom want it.
It is the reoccurring marker that I find most disturbing. It is timeless, unchanging and it smells of burnt embers and damp dirt, haunting me in various incarnations throughout my life, and it marks the same story each time: attachment.
Very recently during a certain tragedy, this marker slipped into place once more, and I knew it too well. Interestingly, this wasn’t my tragedy to claim as my own—they never are. I’m just a bystander. Or worse. I’m trapped in a limbo, a perpetual waiting room with no doors or windows. And it’s quiet. I’m only aware that the tragedy exists—I can’t see it, hear it or know of its details. In fact, it is this absence that weighs on me, and emotions start coursing through me like electricity. This is the source of my suffering: I worry.
Okay, truthfully it’s not as bad as all that. In fact it wasn’t — it hasn’t been and it isn’t. But it’s an accurate description while melodramatic. The point is, I worried.
Worry? That doesn’t sound so bad. People worry all the time about their bills, relationships, family, friends, jobs, reputations, wardrobe, what brand of moisturizer to use and exterior wall paint color. Yes, people do. I don’t. The gods felt it wise to have the “worry gene” lay dormant in my DNA. And that’s not all…
Compassion, empathy, sympathy and worry, these simply are not strong traits in my character. I have enough to be classified human and sane, but not enough trace evidence of it that you’ll hear anyone join these words up with my name outside of sarcasm. You won’t find me teary-eyed over a friend’s grief: love, life, loss… After all, that’s his grief. There’s no sense in both of us getting all torn up about the thing, right?
Well, mostly. And then the marker slips into place. Every once in a long while, my immunity to attachment weakens, this DNA reanimates, and there you have it—I care. Not with everyone, just with a select person or two, I end up attached. Maybe if I were a little more practiced in this art I wouldn’t be so jarred by it, but as it stands, I’m not a fan, and I pretty-much suck at it. Please don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t some altruistic caring for others that overtakes me. No, it’s completely, obsessively selfish. I think…
Somewhere I have to believe that there’s a seed of goodness, of altruism, of genuine concern for the other at the heart of my dysfunction that is intended to somehow be beneficial to them. I often hear it’s a good thing to care about others and their well-being. I’m not so sure. I’ve yet to find an instance when worrying about anyone or any circumstance has actually done any good. From very limited experience, I do know that it can be quite painful for the worrier, so I’m torn on this matter of goodness.
Either way, over the years I’ve made attempts to not allow this alien state to infect all of my sensibilities, and I’ve worked to alter may behavior so that over the years I seem less and less creepy. It hasn’t been easy. Trying to channel the swell of emotions—love, fear, hope, sadness—into something positive, or at least less creepy, has taken decades of work.
Well, sort of. As I said, this a very rare occurrence for me, so each time it happens (maybe every ten years or so), I just try to do a better job with it. And I refer to markers past for reference—fine examples of exactly what not to do this time around. I do know that following instinct here will ensure failure, so reason must override my behavior if I have any chance of success.
For instance, while I may have an overwhelming urge to attach myself to a select suffering friend like a needy baby gorilla, I refrain, believing that behavior would be quite irritating after a short while… for them. Good insight, no?
This time, as the marker settled in and emotions began to build, I don’t think I was as miserable a failure as I have been in the past. I don’t think. The story hasn’t fully come to a close yet, either. What I do know is that this time I deliberately framed my communications before blurting them out in some desperate weirdness. Reason over instinct. Instead of saying: “Call me right away before I jump out of my skin and go kick a puppy!” I said something like, “Please give me a call sometime if you feel up to it.”
See what I did there? I transformed this psychotic-babbling demand to a passive and nearly aloof request. Better, no? Admittedly I did fail at communicating anything honest, but as you can see, full honesty in this case would put my behavior way up the creep scale—the most important thing I am attempting to avoid in this life-lesson. However, I also failed at getting the desired result, which caused me to have more of those damn feelings. Not entirely a success from my perspective.
Now, still left with this mess of tangled, alien feelings—the love, fear, hope, sadness—I found also that at times I actually became a little anxious. Me? Anxious? Another foreign land for me to navigate, but there it was so I had to deal with it.
So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is a mass of powerful energy; a surge of adrenaline that causes a variety of responsive symptoms, I realized as I was trying to remember to breathe (oh I wasn’t hyperventilating or anything nuts… just a little anxious, but still). So, what can be done with an energy surge?
Well, energy can only be one of two things—positive or negative. Rationally, I know that positive is better than negative, and what I was feeling, or perhaps more accurately is… how I was interpreting the feeling was entirely negative.
But it is me—my very body is the conduit that has all the power necessary to change the frequency of that energy from negative to positive. How? Perception.
I had this great idea! Once the anxiety built to a level that had me fully agitated, all of this highly irritating energy stored up, I went quiet, and I focused on love, and I prayed. Using the full force of all of the built up negativity, I redirected it in prayer and released it. Ha! That worked! Negative turned to positive, and anyway you look at it, I was free from it. (Greater success than the passive aloof phone message was—I still have work to do on that one.)
What does all of this mean? Markers serve a significant purpose in helping to guide us through our life journeys and discover instances of personal enlightenment. Though, I submit that the jury is still out on whether emotions serve any helpful purpose. I understand that a degree of emotiveness is important in humanity, to assimilate, fit in, play well with others and to demonstrate care for people important to us—even if in my case that only seems to come up every decade or so. But does feeling pain, empathy, sympathy and worry—does this do any good? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m absolutely not a fan of being human. And, half of me wants to take this whole horrific experience, and the other ones that came before it, pack them up in a duffle bag with a bathing suit, toothbrush and flip flops and hide out in a fishing village in Costa Rica drinking too much rum, eating tacos and writing weird fiction novels no one understands.
The saner half of me knows that I need to get my shit together, celebrate that this time having emotions wasn’t a complete failure for me—it didn’t cause any relationship damage or awkward embarrassing moments, potentially alienating me from the friend I care about and eventually humanity at large. And I can move on, work at trying to be better at this human thing next time it hits me.
And the markers with their earthy odor that continue to haunt me—I don’t think I’ll fear them anymore. I’m learning to appreciate the lessons, in part. Perhaps it’s time to call out the monsters from under the bed—the love, fear hope and sadness—and offer them milk and cookies. Make acquaintances with them even if I’m still suspicious of their friendship. They’re not really that scary after all.
Now, where did I put that duffle bag?