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Monday, June 11, 2012

A Child's Death/Consciousness, A Tiny Stowaway


It's Monday and moving week - closing down the office storefront and moving to a home office. Both employees work from their homes so it's logical - Sarah in 2400SF of office space with Joey to keep me company is dumb right? This place ended up costing me over $7K/month to maintain. Friday found me at Schaller's by myself which was OK, really. Advantage is I got to sing a ton of songs and I rolled out some new numbers (Smile, What a Day This Has Been, Fools Rush In). Mike came and it was only a little awkward between us. I like him and wish him well - he was definitely not my path. And I worry about him a bit - the whole flitting from one woman to another, a hummingbird, sipping nectar. Can't just live on nectar.

So, there was this woman Muriel who goes to Schaller's frequently with friends. She and her friend both sing - they enjoy themselves greatly - it's gratifying to see. Friday, her friends left and she stayed, and because I'd asked her to watch my purse for me when I got up to perform, she was at my table when I returned. Polite conversation ensued, "Where do you live? Married? Kids?" When it came to the kid question, she said she had a daughter in her 60's (Muriel is in her early '80's) and then said "I had a son, but he died". My eyes flashed at her in concern - I wondered what it must be like for her to have a child whose death preceded her own. I asked her, "Does it ever get better - losing a child?" She shook her head and said, "No, and what's worse, he was murdered." I could tell from the look on her face she wanted to talk about it. His name was Tim - he was a fireman.One night he accompanied a coworker and buddy to a bar to celebrate the fellow's promotion to lieutenant. There was an off duty bouncer sitting at the bar, flanked by two women. He was in a fighting mood and accused Tim's party of looking at his girls. A fight ensued between Tim's buddy and the guy and Tim stepped in to break it up, not wanting his friend to get in trouble on the very day he was promoted. The bouncer broke an ashtray against the bar and slashed Tim's throat with it, cutting his carotid artery. This all occurred 30 years ago when Tim was 28  - he's been in the ground longer than he lived.

She told me this story and I was stunned, struck with sadness and I felt myself tearing up - I'm tearing even as I write this. I got up and went to the bathroom to hide my tears from her and then realized she must have thought I was callous and uninterested. So when I came back, I sat with her again and said, with unashamed tears in my eyes, "I'm so very, very sorry for you. From one mother to another my heart hurts for you." I let her talk - she still needs to talk about it even though 30 years have elapsed. She talked about her heart being broken so that her chest actually hurt every moment of the day. She talked about being a zombie for over twenty years, no song in her heart for anyone or anything - ashamed if she laughed about something, feeling as if laughing and enjoying life was a betrayal to Tim. Finally in the last five years, she's ventured out, leaves her husband at home and goes out with friends and sings - finally. Doesn't mean her heart isn't still broken - just means she is coping with it better and finding some pleasure in life. It's taken twenty five years for her heart to partially recover.

And then there's me with my stupid broken heart over a man with whom I had a two month relationship. Wednesday will be a year since we broke up - June 13th 2011. I am mystified why I am still so in love with him. He's moved on. I haven't despite the recent astral cord unhooking ceremony. I'm glad I performed that ritual - it was useful and necessary to say a final good-bye. But just because I've said good-bye doesn't mean I'm not still in love. After hearing Muriel's story, I am in awe of the tenacity of the human heart to hold fast to love, even when it's gone. There are so many stories of steadfast hearts and they're not all human hearts. Read a very sad story about a man who went to war and never came back. On the day he enlisted, his dog accompanied him to the train station, didn't understand why his master was leaving of course. Every single day, until the end of his canine life, the dog waited from sun up to sun down at the station for his master's return.  A steadfast heart.

That brings me to something I've been thinking about and reading about. I'm reading that book, Incognito by David Eagleman. He talks about the fact that our consciousness is just a tiny sliver of who we are, the tip of an enormous iceberg, most of which lives below the surface (our subconscious). The idea is that we think we're in control - we take credit for our actions and yet it's our conscious mind that is often the last to know what's really going on.  Here's an excerpt.
The first thing we learn from studying our own circuitry is a simple lesson: most of what we do and think and feel is not under our conscious control. The vast jungles of neurons operate their own programs. The conscious you - the "I" that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning is the smallest bit of what's transpiring in your brain. Although we are dependent on the functioning of the brain for our inner lives, it runs its own show. Most of its operations are above the security clearance of the conscious mind. The "I " simply has no right of entry. 
Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot. This book is about that amazing fact: how we know it, what it means, and what it explains about people, markets, secrets, strippers, retirement accounts, criminals, artists, Ulysses, drunkards, stroke victims, gamblers, athletes, blood-hounds, racists, lovers, and every decision you've ever taken to be yours.........As Carl Jung put it, 'In each of us there is another whom we do not know.' As Pink Floyd put it, 'There's someone in my head, but it's not me.'
I'm finding this information to be both disconcerting and comforting. Disconcerting because the control freak in me wants to think that with consciousness of effort, I can reign supreme over all my impulses. Comforting because there is so much I don't understand about how my mind works. Now I'm thinking I just don't need to try to understand it all. Why I feel the way I do about some things is probably going to remain a mystery to me despite all the psychoanalysis I've had.

Case in point.  There is this guy I met on line - Thomas. He and I hit it off, first on IM, and then over the phone. We've never met. He is a PhD candidate in Economics at Northwestern and a recent transplant to Evanston from the Bay area in California. For two weeks, we talked on the phone at bedtime almost every night about everything under the sun - his thesis, economic theory, politics, language etymology, music, family, values, our childhoods, our previous relationships - all of it. I could tell he was really interested in me - we were looking forward to meeting. And then he just disappeared - absolutely no communication and I'm stricken. No response to a few texts and voice mail left yesterday. Friends laugh at me - I never even met him and now I'm feeling bereft - truly it's not much of a loss as losses go. This morning, I questioned my brain, "What's going on with you, brain? Why are you taking this so hard?"  And I knew I would never know the answer - why I find it so hard to take no for an answer, why I pound and pound at closed doors.  I know it has to do with the bottom 9/10's of the iceberg, feelings I can't readily access or understand. So this morning, I decided it was OK not to understand myself - stop chewing the bone looking for an answer.  Told myself, "You are a person who is wired to hold on tight. Don't know why that is, but it is." With that I zoomed the lens out, realized I am a bit of a weirdo to be attached to a man I've never met and then had a good laugh about it.

Challenge today is to think about that as it relates to your own life. There are things you do and experience that feel like someone else is pulling the strings, right?  Thinking if we don't gain a healthy respect for the power of our subconscious, we will always be confused by some of our actions and thoughts. If, on the other hand, we step back from our own portrait, maybe the dots will come together in a more understandable way and give us the perspective we lack when we stand too close to the picture. I, for one, am deeply impressed with my brain and I know my conscious thoughts are not the boss of it much of the time - at best, I can hope to nudge it one way or another.

Peace,
Sarah

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