between/the ground and the feast is where I live now
On sustenance when the world wants to fight
On Tuesday morning of this week, I was at my local middle school, standing on line and waiting to check in with the poll workers in order to vote in the midterm elections. The workers are, for the most part, retired teachers and grandparents; people who are a little older, and who have seen it all. A few people ahead of me was a man about my age, in his fifties, waiting impatiently for two women I recognized from the local Episcopal church holiday fair to locate his name. His time was extremely precious, apparently, and when they wanted to send him over to another line, he told these two nice older church ladies to do something to themselves that is physically impossible. And then he stormed out of the school gymnasium. The rest of us on the line gaped at each other, wide-eyed and wary. After all, this is Newtown, and the Sandy Hook school is, or rather, was, less than two miles away from where I was standing, and unthinkable violence runs through our community like a vein. But these days, wherever and whoever we are, the potential for dangerous, entitled fury— physical, emotional, psychological — hangs everywhere like heavy old velvet drapery.
I have a pronounced allergy to rage and, in particular, drama, which makes my throat close up and my body shut down as though I’m going into a sort of anaphylaxis of the mind and spirit.
This is how things have been going lately, pretty much everywhere. People are now enraged as a rule; we are ready to fight at the drop of a hat. The mundane tipping points: being cut off in traffic, getting the wrong order in a restaurant, having to wait on line for something for five minutes, discovering that someone you love and have known for years doesn’t vote the way you do, someone’s yoga mat accidentally touching yours. I grew up in a chronically angry household — my parents were at each other on a daily basis from the time the sun came up, searching for the best and most strategic ways to hurt each other, and I absorbed a lot of that toxic discontent like a sponge. So I have a pronounced allergy to rage and, in particular, drama, which makes my throat close up and my body shut down as though I’m going into a sort of anaphylaxis of the mind and spirit: I just can’t do it, I’m not wired for it, and when approached by it (which I often am, as a writer who is somewhat in the public eye), I flee. I have spent much of my life attracting people with a peculiar fondness for acrimony, who are somehow nurtured and sustained by backing their friends and family up against a wall, and putting them on the defense; I recently decided to examine this, to ask why — the short answer is because it is the language that my cells speak and recognize — and then to say No, it doesn’t have to be this way. And it doesn’t. I used to think that this attitude just had to do with my exposure to social media memes, but that’s not the case; the way we think and live in the world can change thanks to plasticity, as described by neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who I once saw speak quantitatively about neuroplasticity and meditation with Joseph Goldstein, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Daniel Goleman.