"Suffering as the great educator is denied by the Western mind, which always pursues happiness." Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit
Again the rain begins. And so it’s been. Stare long enough out there into that rain-streaked window and you may start to lose sight of the picture on the other side. What you may start focusing on however, are the little globs dribbling down the panes. Some droplets may defiantly cling, holding on rather than sliding down to meet with others. Some likely pool in a corner, weighing heavily with every patter. Waiting. Weighing. Waiting… The magic is in those raindrops you know. Each reflects and refracts a familiar world into something distorted and new. It beckons you to look upon the familiar with unfamiliar scope. There’s a tiny microcosm in those droplets, every one of them. And they all magnify the existing world. Don’t believe me? Next time, take a look through a raindrop and tell me what you see.
Tears are probably similar in that way. They are probably similar in that way though I wouldn’t know. It’s been a long time since I’ve shed one. I’ve forgotten how. But if I were to use my imagination, I imagine that tears falling from your eyes are similar to the raindrops falling from the sky—tiny beads filtering your view. I imagine you can learn a lot from seeing through them. Not beyond them, but literally, through as you would bifocals, trifocals even, into another world.
Tears are probably a bit like the words you hold inside yourself, the words you want to say during all those awkward silent moments. You know those moments, I know you do. Those moments in which you need the right words to mean what you’re saying, but none exist. Those moments that slip beyond cordial “How’s the weather?” and “Did you have a nice weekend?” I’m talking about those moments where the silence is shouting everything you’re feeling and questioning everything you’re screaming from within. It’s that awkward moment you’ve reached where no audible language can translate what you’re bearing, what you’re breathing. You know the scene. You’ve been there. Sometimes it’s with a friend on the other line and she’s sitting there listening to your quiet. Neither of you say anything, but she hears it in the void, in the blank gap of darkness I always picture separating phone lines and airwaves. Or maybe you’re at the bar and your buddy sits beside you picking at the coaster, tapping the edge of his pint to echo the reticence. It’s uncomfortable, but he’s uncomfortable with you. You don’t say anything, but he doesn’t either. He. She. They are your friends and aware you’re feeling feelings and that you have no way to tell them so. And so you wrap your hands, slip on the gloves and find a language that can convey the conviction to your thoughts.
Hitting the heavy bag is probably similar to the pattering of the rain. It offers a cadence, a rhythm your words can’t describe. It’s like the music others turn to, but here the lyrics are the poetry of a different language. Because that’s what men do. We don’t give in to things we can’t fight with our fists. We shell up and punch through. Why would we be “man enough” to explore the origins of our sorrows when we can numb them by punching them away? Why should we communicate our care, concern and fears when we’re taught to “man up or shut up”? Why should we do anything but see love = vulnerability = weakness? And so you don’t want to shut up. You want to fill that nihility with your speech and so you keep throwing those combinations hoping they’ll unlock the response you’ve been looking for. It kept you safe before. Why not again? Jab-Cross-Hook. Jab-Cross-Hook. Jab-Cross-Hook… And Hook. And Hook. And Hook. And Hook. And Hook…
Unshed tears are probably similar in that way. You know they want to talk to you, but they don’t know how to break the threshold of silence. So you and those hidden tears acknowledge each other. You’re both subdued allowing solace in knowing you both care. Men cry. But I can’t. Instead I look out at rain-streaked windows imagining what it’s like to answer a silent vacuum. The world sheds a tear so that I can hear. And when I can’t answer back, I let the beat of the canvas bag answer for me.
And now that it’s gone it’s like it wasn’t there at all / And here I rest where disappointment and regret collide / Lying awake at night / Up all night / When I’m lying awake at night.
Men cry. But I can’t. Maybe if I keep writing I’ll remember how.
Fears for Tears: Men and Vulnerability Higher Unlearning, The Good Men Project Why Is Our Society Obsessed with Modern Men and Maniliness? Nicole Johnson, The Good Men Project
I am amazed at the situations I find myself in, sometimes extravagant, other times surprising, and from time to time, enlightening. Mundanity sets in, for sure, and I think that this feeling grows as we find ourselves more capable of escaping it. Ever read a book and wish that you were doing what they were? Or watch a movie and find an instant twinge of nostalgia as the music cues and the credits start to scroll? Part escapism, part actualization of a dream to move, to explore, to inquire, the adventurous in us were clever enough to invent ways to accentuate the experience, or, with a sprit of genius, create one.
Even then, once that moment is done, that last leaf turned, or the last spin on the merry-go-round rounds, people like us crave ever so slightly the next moment that brings us out of our normalcy. Book, film, playground architecture, small hamlet along the coast, guest to a laird, sitting on a dock with friends; amazing moments once wrung lay dripping with memories.
Finality inspires. It asks of us, what have we taken for granted? What have we done, or more importantly, what have we yet to do and what will we never be able to experience again. How many more times will we sit by that window sipping coffee? Or run alongside the river, losing the day’s trials as we do so? How many more opportunities will we have to dance upon rooftops like kings upon their thrones?
Are all these hopeless grasps at unsustainable pleasures? Or mere stepping stones to a higher plane of existence? Collingwood warned of looking at practical life with disdain, that the disatisfaction of those linking moments between fortuity be an illness to our humanistic fiber:
Amusement becomes a danger to practical life when the debit it imposes on these stores of energy is too great to be paid off in the ordinary course of living. When this reaches a point of crisis, practical life or ‘real’ life, becomes emotionally bankrupt; a state of things which we describe by speaking of its intolerable dullness or calling it a drudgery. A moral disease has set it, whose symptoms are a constant craving for amusement and an inability to take any interest in the affairs of ordinary life, the necessary work of livelihood and social routine. A person in whom the disease has become chronic is a person with a more or less settled conviction that amusement is the only thing that makes life worth living. A society in which the disease is endemic is one in which most people feel some such conviction most of the time.1 (R.G. Collingwood)
- R.G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 95
An alarming consideration at the very least. To be addicted to what we consider the essential consistency of our resolve—the “stuff” that makes life worth living—would be a crime. But I believe there is a clear distinction between the stargazer and the sleuth. Perhaps in our pursuit of mental and spiritual satisfaction, we use those rare moments, exploiting them as linking points, cues to connect our memories to the less memorable—though no less essential—chapters of our greater narrative. That is what makes working hard and working smart as satisfactory as traveling fast and traveling far. And while the repetitious routine may seem to wear away our resolution, we must remember that those instances, whether impressive or seemingly inconsequential, are only a part of the greater awe. It is, after all, in those quiet moments where we are able to synthesize all those great experiences to create the great work, our magnum opus.
And so it is that on a Friday night, quite an un-extraordinary one, we find ourselves in a restaurant discussing the mundane.
"When you start feeling that way, it’s always good to take a moment and step back. That way you can look at yourself as a character in you own narrative. You can remove yourself from that moment of frustration."
Wise words from a friend who, at the moment, is taking a giant bite out of his brick-oven pizza.
”That’s why it’s called ‘The Struggle,’ Phil. Because it’s a struggle.”
And as I’m now taking my turn to take a bite out of my pizza, I think about what Matt had to say. All that comes to mind is:
What Really Matters Then?
I once heard someone pose the question: “When you are on your deathbed, what really matters then?” I have yet to come up with a better answer than the one they proposed: “Only two things matter: who you loved and who loved you.” As business leaders, activists, authors, artists, whoever we are, I think we stand to gain by embracing friendship as a vision for qualifying “success in life.” (excerpt from James Shelley)
As I’m moving forward (falling forward in some instances) towards my goals to be a better person, to achieve satisfaction in my work, and to embrace fun and wisdom out of life, I find myself posing a similar question. I suppose we all ask it: what really matters?
James Shelley sums it up pretty well in his latest post. All the achievements made and the mountains yet to climb are successful and succeeding due to the support and camaraderie of my closest friends. Whether it is tasting the athletic satisfaction of training on a regimented routine or starting a business in values truly believed, my closest friends push me further than I thought I could go. But more importantly, at the end of the day, it’s being able to kick back with them, each of us sharing the fruits of our hard work—while gallivanting along whatever adventures we may find—that makes all of this worth it. That time for reflection with other hard workers, other artists, other passionate people that I have the privilege of calling ‘friend’ is what makes all of it worth it in the first place.