I am not the easiest person to live with. I have come to understand that over time.
It’s not that I am a nasty soul, or an angry one or overtly hostile. I am not even good at passive aggressive. It’s that I don’t show my feelings very well. I’ve written about this before. Part of that is coming from a family that did not show emotions very often, good or bad. Part of that is trauma based stuff that doesn’t need pouring out in this particular essay.
The point is that I have, for many years, not been good at expressing my feelings very well in the moment. I am not being coy or evasive with them. I simply have trouble knowing what I am feeling sometimes. My wife often understands when I am flat or feeling more depressed before I do. I may know something is not right, (or VERY right, because the emotions I deal with are just as often good as not.), but not be able to articulate them.
I have written poetry since I was in college. I started because I wanted to take a class with my then girlfriend, not because I wanted to write poetry. (A long aside here – it is amazing how some of the most important things in my life, poetry, art, and my hospice work, were done because a woman in my life saw something I did not.).
I fell in love with poetry. It became a way to sort through my emotions and get them down. A way to explain myself to myself.
There was a period when I stopped writing, I was in my forties and life got ahead of me. Responsibilities that come with careers and families and church swallowed up the poetry writing, and while I did not realize it, I slowly was becomeing undone. Not because of the not writing – that was only part of the coming undone, but it was a part.
When the undone had unraveled to a crisis point, I went (later than I should have) to therapist who almost immediately set me back on the path of writing again. A journal at first, and then poetry. She is the one who suggested that I begin to post my fledgling new poems, knowing that even if I had one regular reader, I wa so responsible that I’d keep writing. She was, as most good therapists are, right.
That was somewhere between 12 – 15 years ago. And I still write. And for the same reasons. To explain myself to myself. You, dear readers (and you ARE dear to me, the way you read me and comment regularly. I am honored by it all.) just get drug along as I write.
Which brings me to not being an easy person to live with.
You see, people deserve to heare about feelings, as we have them. But way too often I won’t know what I am feeling early in the morning. I am perfectly functional. I laugh a lot (The woman I love has a fantastic sense of humor, one of the zillion things I love about her. Sometimes she will ask me how I am feeling and I have to sit with myself a bit to be able to tell her. That alone must be a little frustrating.
But there are other days when she does not ask me specifically and I head off to my day, which starts with writing at my favorite diner, and I just sit with myself a bit and ask myself how I am feeling, and slowly, the words come and generally, they come out in a poem, and occasionally in an essay like this. She reads my poem somewhere during the day and when I get home it’s “WHy didn’t you tell me you were feeling (fill in the blank here.)
The answer is always the same, and she actually knows it before she asks it. I didn’t know. I had to sit with it to be able to name it.
This drove other women in my life to distraction, and I understand why. I am grateful that while I know it is no less maddening to her, my wife, she is far more tolerant. Evidently I have some traits that are worth keeping me around for. And I am grateful.
And I do talk about stuff. Once I spit it out here, even if it is all vague and poetic; once I have given the emotions a name, I am able to talk about what I am feeling in depth. It’s just that I live in an emotional log jam that often needs some time and thought to break loose.
I don’t think I am as unusual as I used to think. In my work roles as a coach and spiritual counselor, I have found that many people erupt with one emotion, but then, as we take the time to look deeper, we find there is something else going on. Something deeper. But now they have to deal with the fallout of the initial eruption as they try to sort through the real, base emotions that caused the reaction in the first place.
It’s really common, I have come to understand. And it’s not all bad. It allows me to get through a crisis pretty well, able to stay logical and useful because my emotions from it have not risen to the top. It’s the afterwards time when I come undone. It has served me well with stage fright too. Before doing a talk or a sermon, I seem calm. Nerveless. I am not of course and once I am done… Yep, the stage fright hits. So, not all bad at all. Just a thing.
A thing that drives some people crazy. And a thing others, like my beloved wife, takes in stride. I don’t think she, even as we approach our anniversary, understands how much that means to me,
Isn’t that the way? Often there are things that seem small to the people who love someone else, that are HUGE to us. And if we mention it, they shrug it off as not a big deal. But it is. I’d bet, if you ask the people who love you, why, at least one of the things they mention will be something you thought was just a little thing, but to them it was…. yep…. HUGE. Go ahead. Try it.
When we say it is the little things, this is what we mean. What is little to the giver of love may be giant sized to the who is loved.
My wife’s willingness to deal with my delayed reaction to emotions is huge because it means that she gets the pains that I went through in earlier years that made me this way. And it means she loves me anyway. When we feel we are loved “anyway”, it is magical. It has power to transform us.
I have become better at it since being with my wife. I have a long way to go yet. But her being with me has changed me for the better. (and this is just one way).
So what little thing in your life is actually not a little thing? Sit with it a while. (because that is the only way we come to know ourselves fully). And then rejoice! Be thankful. Life, and love are far more magical than we understand sometimes. Sometimes it takes time to understand just how.
Your slow friend,
PS: the picture was taken at Mystic Seaport. It is the hinge of a doorway to the innards of a sailing boat. Not perfect, but fascinating in its detail.