It is the rare occasion, indeed, when I run across an opportunity to listen to Ross Gay that I don’t take it and quickly. So I was finishing up lunch the other day and saw a 15-minute interview with him on NPR in which he describes being moved, as in emotionally. He describes the vulnerability of being moved, which struck me as so strange and yet…
…almost immediately came to mind a moment in a furniture store nearly 20 years ago when my then-beau and I were buying an L-shaped sectional but only, only if the turn could happen on the other side. The salesman checked and, when he confirmed the option, I – no joke – pumped my fist in the air. I might have even said, “Yes!”
About a sectional.
I was so embarrassed in the moment. Embarrassed enough that I find the memory embarrassing all these years later.
Embarrassed, that is, to be very clear, that I had been excited.
Now, if I wanted to double-down on my own self-punishment, I could justify the embarrassment by saying the enthusiasm was outsized given the circumstances.
But: According to whom?
And: Why would I do that to myself?
I have a memory of high school, a vague one, of sitting on a kitchen island with a bunch of other kids around and one, a guy, faked a punch. Had it landed, it would have landed squarely on my face. I didn’t flinch and he was impressed.
That memory doesn’t embarrass me. It horrifies me.
I was pleased to impress him.
I was pleased to not flinch.
With a fist flying toward my face.
Both of these memories come from the same part of my psyche. I started to write – did write and deleted – that they both came from the indoctrination that connected being cool and being impervious, as though they were one in the same.
And yet when I reread the words, I noticed something else bubble up within me. Being cool was, absolutely a factor. Not gonna lie. But there was something more about that, something about safety.
To be impervious was to not let then hurt in.
To imagine that there was a way to not let the hurt in.
To imagine that I could make myself so stone cold as to be impenetrable to pain.
It’s like what Brené Brown said, “You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”
Or when Ross Gay said, “For the heart to get bigger, there’s breaking happening.”
Or that Leonard Cohen lyric about how there’s a crack in everything. “That’s how the light gets in.”
It’s also how the light gets out, all that shiny goodness within us.
So, I’m practicing being pervious. To it all.
I’m practicing letting my heart break. And though I currently have no idea how to work flinching back into my repertoire, I’ll keep trying.