Longing to be Mr. Spock or Melanie Wilkes…

In my next life, I want to be analytical, not emotional.

I am so done with all this excess baggage of empathy, outrage and excessive responses. I wish I could restrict myself to one carry-on. I long to travel light…with just a knapsack of… apathy; I am sick of carrying all this feeling and still having to kick more down the Airliner of Life’s center aisle. I know other “travelers” look at me and wonder: “What is up with her?”

Lately, I’m wondering too.

Lately, I ask myself, why can I not just read a newspaper without wanting to suit up for some ideological battle? Why can I not go to random weddings without some internal “Sunrise, Sunset” scenario wrenching at my heart and reminding me of the fragility and finite beauty of life and love? Why do I remember snatches of poetry and/or country western song lyrics at the oddest times…that amp up for me otherwise ordinary situations into high (and rhyming) drama? Why can I never forget words…especially words that wound me or words that move me…and why do I feel the need to carry all those long past conversations or weighty phrases with me for easy retrieval every day of my life?

I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. In high school, a boy I had long pined for finally asked me to attend “Movie Night” with him. In those days, our school would show an old movie for a few nights as a special fundraiser. I was thrilled by this invitation.

Unfortunately, the movie that year was “Carousel.”

I can’t remember how far in I started crying, but by the time the Ghost told his grieving wife “Know that I loved you…” I was beside myself. So, okay, I cried during the movie, you are thinking. People, I cried onto the cheeseburger my date bought me afterwards! I was crying at the door when he left me, much too inconsolable for a 17 year-old to try to kiss. He reasonably never asked me out again. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me that I might have married this guy…if our High School had only selected “The Three Stooges.”

Some years ago, my husband and I attended the wedding of the daughter of one of his employees. Her Dad is one of the kindest souls you might ever meet. Anyway, it was a folk Mass..and at one point, the priest announced the next song was especially chosen by the Bride to be sung to her Father. The lyrics I had never heard before…but here was the gist..the words this Bride chose to mark her wedding day: “I know I am not beautiful in the eyes of the world, but let them just say this of me…she has her Father’s eyes…eyes that see the best in everyone…eyes that embrace everyone with kindness. Let them say…she has her Father’s eyes.”

What a moment! I was overwhelmed! At the close of the ceremony, the man next to me said, “I noticed how moved you were. You must be very close to the Bride. Are you related?”

“No” I hiccupped…”I’m just meeting her today. Her Dad and my husband work together.”

You should have seen the look.

But there’s more.

The Words.

As Edna St Vincent MIllay so bluntly put it:

“I have loved badly. Loved the Great too soon. Withdrawn my words too late. And eaten alone, and from a chipped plate…the words that I withdrew too late.”

It is rather miraculous that I have managed a long and happy marriage…and numerous long and sustained friendships. I do love badly: friends, relatives, organizations, causes..I embrace them so enthusiastically, so whole-heartedly, so completely! I want to give them my best, my all, my unfailing loyalty, every good gift I have. And I think I do.

But I do nothing temperately. Nothing moderately. Nothing methodically in matters of the heart. Like the peasant woman of the poem, running through the field, her apron filled with a profusion of flowers “See what I have! These are ALL for YOU!!”

“All for you!” As long as I remain “in love”, that is….with the friendship, the organization, or the cause. As long as the apron does not become filled with disillusionment, disenchantment, and…words.

But, more often than I like…the words do come. And I indulge the accumulation of words. Things seem normal on the outside I suppose. No one sees me collecting them. But I am carrying them, accumulating them. Out of the apron….into the carry-on bag they go.

The relationships that endure are those where we put the words on the table and parse them into dust and they disintegrate. I can let go of the worst words if I understand.

But, the deadly words are the denied ones. I don’t do well by those who dissemble their own words or demand I dismiss them without discussion.

Sometimes I leave in a blaze of disillusioned rhetoric. Sometimes I just…leave.

Sometimes, lately, I’m concerned that I have gotten too good at good-bye. I believe people crystallize as we get older…an annoying little trait can become a defining characteristic or a Shakespearean fatal flaw.

I’m thinking about that a lot these days.

I’m trying.

I’m trying to learn to see past words; temper disillusion; love when unloved; give just for giving. I’m trying harder to…stay.

But it wearies me…perhaps the discussion of it…as Shakespeare said, even “wearies you.”

Yet…the flip side of all this emotional rapture is the intensity with which those so afflicted also see the beauty of this world, the preciousness of their life. In that sense, I have MY Father’s eyes. I have sat at many a Christmas table, entered the home (or the arms) of many a friend, looked out from many a hotel room and said to myself, “Daddy, I am your “lucky Duck!”

I am often fully and joyously…in the moment. I am rarely “surprised by Joy.” If I travel with all that heavy baggage, I also have Joy along as a frequent flying companion.

I have also a treasure chest of beautiful words stowed in my heart as well. I have a scrapbook of poems that friends and loved ones wrote for me on a special Birthday. Notes and cards that I saved for many years. I really re-read them. I savor the words, carry them with me always too.

I “know my luck.”

I suppose that is the Ying and Yang…the gift and the burden of emotional intensity.

Given the chance, would I give up moments of unadulterated JOY, the complexity of feeling all the storms, yet absorbing into me every rainbow …to attain the simplicity of peace?

Maybe I’m already backing off the opening line of this essay….

Maybe in my next Life, I’ll decide to be Melanie Wilkes rather than Scarlett. She did land Ashley, after all.

But Scarlett had Rhett.


“Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain…but then…I would have missed the Dance.”


3 Responses

  1. “I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man, I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased. However, I don’t know beans about my disease, and I am not sure what is bothering me. I don’t treat it and never have, though I respect medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, let’s say sufficiently so to respect medicine. (I am educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, I refuse to treat it out of spite. You probably will not understand that. Well, I understand it. Of course, I can’t explain to you just whom I am annoying in this case by my spite. I am perfectly well aware that I cannot ‘get even’ with the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that I thereby injure only myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t treat it, it is out of spite. My liver is bad, well then—let it get even worse!”

    Thus begins Dostoevsky’s astonishing “Notes from Underground,” advanced by persons far more clever than I to confound scientists who smugly assure us that just around the corner are computers whose “conversations” with us will make them indistinguishable from human beings.

    A few pages later Dostoevsky’s narrator continues:

    “Now I want to tell you, gentlemen, whether you care to hear it or not, why I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnly that I wanted to become an insect many times. But I was not even worthy of that. I swear, to you gentlemen, that to be hyperconscious is a disease, a real positive disease. Ordinary human consciousness would be too much for man’s everyday needs, that is, half or a quarter of the amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unfortunate nineteenth century . . . “

    Another hundred pages of brilliant introspection and self-flagellation follow, making Dostoevsky’s narrator perhaps the greatest poke-in-the-eye ever delivered by literature to the pretensions of glib rationalists everywhere. But to drive his anti-rationalism home, Dostoevsky gives us a hero so determined to smash the notion of “Crystal Palace” progressivism he does not apologize for evil deeds if such deeds effectively validate a man’s need to assert himself in the midst of a dehumanizing and smothering pursuit of “enlightened” and calculating self-interest. Even if initially drawn to this ur-psychologist, many of us might prefer to keep such a liberator of the spirit very much underground.

    Your essay, Joan, could well be the opening to a comparable effort to encapsulate what is uniquely human—but a treatment I prefer to call “Notes from Aboveground.” I’m confident, though, that you have already unraveled your particular dilemma and have already come to understand that the cost of reducing your emotional vulnerability (presuming such a transformation even possible) would be far too high. May I add that the cost to your friends and family were you to hide your large heart under the mantle of the grand inquisitor would be unbearable?

  2. Benny and Joan:

    Profound and beautifully written. When we lose our capacity to feel, we have abandoned that which constitutes our humanity.

  3. Benny…amazing post. Thanks to both you and cks, my dear cyber-friends.

    It’s a new day. Today my credo is from Chaucer:

    “I’ll but lie down and bleed awhile, then rise and fight again.”

    I’m already in the suit of armor ..just need to put on lipstick.


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