Tag: empathy

Flammable Heart

old flame

I’ve spent years trying to express, expel, excoriate, and exorcise the sound of the world and its suffering souls from my head, from my consciousness, from my dreams. The source of so much of my discomfort in the world is hearing all the exquisite pain, joy, and noise of living other people let loose on the collective radio-waves. The sounds of suffering keep me up at night. Sometimes I can disentangle individual voices from the cacophony and sometimes it all blends into one voice, one sound, one collective pain. Mostly pain.

It’s always amplified on holidays.

When I cry for myself I’m nearly always crying for others with me. I’m part of a collective I can’t shut out, I can’t unhear, I can’t separate from selfhood. When I cried into the wind and the rain and the bay tree shimmered and amplified my wailing, it carried so many voices into the night besides my own.

I’m not sure I’ve ever cried completely alone, even when I felt completely helpless and torn by circumstance and darkness.

When I feel alone in the world I feel alone with all the millions of other people who feel alone at the same time. It isn’t comfort because when I feel them out there feeling the same aloneness I feel myself – we are all similarly paralyzed.

Imagine you have lived all your life never meeting another soul who can describe what you’ve spent the last 30 years trying to explain to deaf ears, that you’re sometimes crippled by the deafening awareness of every other soul on earth. And then you meet a twin spirit who hears it too, who knows the sound of human suffering in the quiet, who can hear the breathing of the earth and is discomfited by it.

I’m 45 years old and for the first time in my life I’ve met someone who understands the noise I live with. The sentient noise that roars across the atmosphere just underneath the speed of sound. It feels like coming home, like meeting a spiritual doppelganger and slugging down liquid fire to ignite mutual courage in meeting the noise head-on.

I’ve hated feeling alone with this noise. I’ve nearly drowned from the weight of it and no one knowing what the fucking hell I’m talking about. Everything has sound. I can hear it all sometimes. Other times I’m mercifully able to block it out, but rarely at will.

If there are two of us, surely there are more of us? What is it about our brains that we can’t filter out NOISE? Is it an evolutionary advantage or a primal ability mostly bred out of humans? What are we called? Is there a name for being able to hear all the beings on earth at one time?

I don’t believe it’s true madness. Whether it’s something primal I’m tapped into or an evolutionary shift, I have always known it to be as real as my own skin. And now I know absolutely for sure that I’m not the only one who hears the breathing of the night.

I have always found comfort in labels, in categorizing life, in being able to compartmentalize it. I like to think of life as one great big library card catalog. I know that reality is a sticky jammy¬† mess that defies cupboards and drawers, but I still want to put the bread where bread belongs and look for jam jars on shelves reserved for jam. I want things to be tidy in my mind because they never are. I want to impose order where order can’t survive. I want to believe I can put my stamp of rationality on everything and it will all separate and divide accordingly.

I remember the last time I used the card catalog in the San Francisco library, the old location. I remember the smell, the feel of the slightly worn oily much-fingered cards, and I remember the randomness of discovery as well as the charming irregularities of the library typists encountered deep in the drawers of cards.

I’m not a free spirit. I sleep best alone in a narrow dark corner where no one can touch me. I don’t like to explore why this is because I know why and it terrifies me. I feel most comfortable in well prescribed spaces. I want to know the dimensions of the places I’m going to spend time. I want to know and plan for the noise I will experience.

Earth has always been a hostile environment for me.

My skin is electric.

My heart is always on fire.