When we were younger, and our heart breaks, it felt like the end of the world–as if the ground would open up and swallow us whole in chaos.
When we are older, we know that the world will not end and that indeed, life goes on. But with age, so does our pain mature in that the feeling of hurt is rooted in reality. The reality is that as days pass, we are psychologically compelled to forget and mend ourselves.
In this sense, our heart heals but instead we are introduced to a new type of pain. This pain does not grab you in one fell swoop, but rather gnaws at you with numbing persistence. The sorrow in understanding that what once was beautiful no longer exists, and continues to fade. The disappointment in knowing with every morning, it will continue to become a distant memory, in knowing that it will be replaced. There is pain in wondering how something and someone who made us so happy could become nothing more than a faint imprint on our lives. The pain in not wanting to let it go, but having no other choice.
I spent the later part of my twenties watching my mother succumb to Alzheimer’s. If you’ve ever personally known (not just met) anyone who endured this disease, you will know that it is not just about memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is like watching the process of the soul leaving the physical body, gradually, slowly and permanently.
During those years, I think something inside me broke. I used to approach life with so much optimism, and hope. I used to be able to experience the highs of happiness and the crashes of despair. I believed that everything had purpose and ultimately some divine construction. But now, I feel that all my feelings and emotions have been muted.
Both joy and sadness lack extremes, and my heart and head are often conflicted except I’m unsure which one, if either, is right. Whenever I experience good things or bad things, I often feel like my heart constricts, cutting it off before I am able to actually process. Though I am going through the experience, I am never able to truly feel it as it was meant to be felt.
I took the bus into work yesterday and seeing how it was Friday, decided to skip filling my tumbler with coffee from home in lieu of a quick stop at a downtown Starbucks. The thrill of Friday was definitely in the air, paired with the uncharacteristic upbeat music playing in the coffee shop. Walking through the streets of Seattle with my iced latte in hand, I realized that since purposely avoiding the downtown scene for the past few years, the people of this city have become increasingly fashionable and trendy.
Watching the people bustling to work that morning made me also realize that for the first time in a while, I felt a small sense of joy. I’m not sure if it was because I was living vicariously through the strangers passing me on the street–each dressed to the nines, and undoubtedly ready to power through the work day in time for cocktails–but I felt and embraced the liveliness.
Being in a relationship made me a suburban homebody, and perhaps a part of me missed the exhilaration of that carefree, city life. I’m not sure if it was the joy that brought on the sadness, or whether it was standing in the shadows all along, but I suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of emotion as I got closer to work. I did not think it was possible to feel both joy and sadness at the same time.
For some reason, catching myself in a state of happiness after being miserable for the past few months brought on a catharsis. I found myself sad that I was happy. I was sad that I was able to finally see the good in a world without him. I was sad that in that moment, I did not care about where he was, or what he was doing. I was sad to realize that I could go on.
Deep down, however, I know that I have outgrown the fast-paced, mile-a-minute lifestyle filled with grande americanos in the morning and vodka sodas in the evening. I know that these had been replaced by something deeper and more meaningful. But on that Friday morning, I remembered what it was like to be happy, if only for a moment.
There comes a point where you stop crying, not because it hurts less, but because it has become exhausting. The thought of shedding tears makes you feel physically tired and know that it doesn’t change a damn thing. There comes a point of no return, when it is easier to keep walking than to turn around and remember the devastation.
We are here now because choices were made, things were said, and they cannot be taken back. In fact, these decisions and words have overrun my mind, and it becomes increasingly difficult for me to remember why I was so heartbroken. There comes a point where I cannot subject myself to feeling miserable anymore.
I keep walking, and the further away I get, the harder it is to come back. I don’t believe there is any turning back, even though the pain is still tender. I’ve decided to bury that pain into the depths of the past, so that every time it tries to surface, I redirect.
This is the way life goes, and I was foolish to believe things would have turned out any differently. I was foolish to believe in positive outcomes, that for once in my life, I could have it all. Even in the thick of happiness, I was unable to fully experience it or accept it because it all felt like a dream, too good to be reality.
There is a blurry line between being emotionally cautious, and acting unscrupulously. People can easily use one to justify the other, to validate decisions that disguise self-serving intent. I see this wavering separation in the public desensitization of terrorism, and catastrophe which I too am guilty of. An abundance of trauma, pain, and loss easily leads to apathy.
I suspect that the greatest lesson life tries to teach me is to learn how to protect my heart, to stop feeling deeply, to hide my cards, to sympathize less, to put my well-being before others’. I know this because whenever I let my guard down, things come crashing into a heap at my feet, over, and over, and over again. I suspect that life wants to push me towards the side of indifference, and to understand that when you wear your heart on your sleeve, it will catch on fire each and every time. And I will burn so many times that I will become indifferent to the pain, whether in feeling it or inflicting it.
But to this, I say never. The capacity to love, and love in spite of our fears and anxieties has become more rare in this day and age. Love inspires us to be better people, to be selfless, patient, forgiving and understanding.
Why would I ever want to become numb to that?