Mortified to Take That Leap of Faith

Up the boy leapt, into the air. Down he came, feet first into the sand. Losing his balance, his rear cratered what was once even. He pulled himself up, mildly dejected, for he had failed to surpass the mark achieved by one of his classmates. “Not good enough,” the boy thought. He exited the sandpit and jogged 50 feet back to the line of his waiting peers. “You were so close,” one boy exclaimed. “Told ya you wouldn’t pass it,” sneered another. “I got further than you!” the boy recanted, defending his performance.

I watched while circling around the track, as adolescent after adolescent took their leap. The activity aroused excitement and fear in these unseasoned young adults. In their eyes it provided them an opportunity to prove themselves to their peers, but, inversely, with any little screw up, it could tarnish their reputations and collapse the identity and tower of self esteem they were trying to build.

After I showered off the sweat and stink from my body, I promptly pulled open my laptop to start writing. I glanced to the corner of the screen and noticed the WiFi bar was empty. The free internet my smartphone provides can be unreliable, but I’ve long considered it to be a money saving tactic worth the inconveniences of intermittent dropped connections. I walked over to my window to see one of my neighbors in my building opening up their blinds. I wondered if they would be interested in sharing the cost and use of wireless internet.

Aside from the clomping of my upstairs neighbor, it almost feels like I live alone in my building. Everyone keeps to themselves, are very quiet, and keep different schedules. I rarely see anyone when coming back from work, doing errands, or spending time with friends. This made me skeptical that any neighbor would be interested in my proposal, and nervous to even approach one about it.

I stood outside my neighbor’s door, holding my fist out, ready to knock. After a few moments of hesitation, I finally cracked my knuckles against the wood, one, two, three times. I waited. The light coming from the small peep hole at the upper center of the door faded. My neighbor opened the door. He looked to be my age, perhaps a little older, tall, curly brown hair, with pajama pants on. I introduced myself, relayed to him my dilemma, and pitched my idea. Unfortunately he used a secure connection through his work, but I found that asking him was far more painless than I had imagined it would be. I returned my apartment, feeling more accomplished than dejected, continued writing, and then took a mid-afternoon nap that would give me energy to go out that evening.

A group of high school boys got on the 38 heading downtown at the Fillmore stop. As they stepped up into the crowded bus, they were conversing about their heights. “I’m five eight,” one of them exclaimed. “No you’re not!” cried another. “I know I’m five eight and I’m taller than you. Look.” He turned his back to the other boy so they were facing away from each other and measured himself against his friend. “I’m supposed to get to six foot,” chimed in one more. I got off at Grant and walked over to meet my friend for dinner.

That night we went to a show called Mortified where brave souls, on stage, recite and recall their journals and diaries from high school. As we waited in line to be waived into the show’s venue, we talked about the different friends we had in common, and how as they varied in age, so did their levels of acceptance with their identities. I described to her the event I witnessed on the bus. Those kids were so invested in how they were seen by others and by who they wished themselves to be that they did not accept who they were in that moment. Our older friends were more fearless, more self accepting, and more willing to risk alienation from others to be themselves, we agreed. And that is what made us appreciate and value them as friends all the more.

Inside the DNA Lounge 80s pop music set the mood. We had entered the land of teenage angst. First was a man who had his heart broken by a cheerleader, then a black woman who hated Black History month when she was 16 because she was the only student of color in her school, then a formerly closeted gay man raised as a mormon, then a girl who subscribed to sex and drugs to become a ‘cool kid’, and finally an animator who feared death and physical pain so much that he blamed his parents for trapping him in this world. The common thread that ran through each reading was the creation of identity. All the readers were mortified, at the time they originally penned their private thoughts, from not being accepted. And this is what motivated them to deny, fight for, create, destroy, belittle, and explore their identities both in their journals/diaries and in real life.

It is a leap of faith to be vulnerable, to show what may be your weakest side. But when that does happen, and someone catches you on the other side, the strength you gain from it is so powerful, it’s nearly unmeasurable. If you practice it enough, eventually you’ll learn to catch yourself. In San Francisco, I’ve learned how to leap into the sandpit, ignore what the results may be, who will judge it, and how it will be judged. And from this self acceptance has come the ability to accept and feel the love of those I know are friends.

Advertisements

What I Want

There are infinitesimal possibilities in this universe, in this existence. Sometimes I think the darkest thought possible, that within the infinite possibilities of occurrences and utterances, there is a finite number of results, of effects, of options, and we are but merely archetypes in a story that is on a constant loop, varying only slightly from previous adaptations, until our part ends. What I want is not someone who can make me forget this, but someone who can make me not care about it.

Empath

Reverend Ronald Kobata wrapped the maroon yarn around his hand. After each revolution, his hand became less and less visible. “Think of this string as the materials, both concrete and abstract, that you use in your everyday life to weave together who you think yourself to be.” He pauses. “Your clothes.” One revolution. “Your shoes.” Another revolution. “Your friends.” And another. “Your hobbies.” He continued to wrap, until soon the Reverend’s hand was no longer visible. “Eventually, your truest self is completely embalmed by your embellishments. No sunlight can get through.” He pauses. “Buddhism teaches us to shed these embellishments to find our truest selves.”

Children wearing boy and girl scout uniforms bearing the mark of the Buddhist Church shifted uncomfortably in the front row, unable to fully connect to the Reverend’s teachings. The adults, however, some visibly parents, some visibly childless, stared intently at the Reverend. His metaphor calmed the raging rivers in my head to a steady flow. Only a night prior had I wondered what my life might feel like if I was in touch with my truest self, at peace with my identity and all my decisions and actions.

The Reverend’s sermon both challenged and reaffirmed a possible path to my personal enlightenment. I’d grown closer to new friends I’d made in the city after spending Friday and Saturday, front to back, with them. It was an emotionally complex two days, peppered with laughs, salted with intimate musings, and spiced with meaningful music.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free all weekend music festival in Golden Gate Park, set the stage. I roamed alongside three friends, through crowd covered fields from stage to stage, from noon til dusk Friday and Saturday. Upon nightfall on Friday, three of us moved to a different part of town to see a coworker’s music show, and Saturday led us out dancing. Saturday was unusual. I was exhausted after two days straight of the festival, and under most circumstances I would decide to pack it in. However, the weekend was in rhythm. And I was in rhythm with myself and my new friends. I knew continuing could lead to something magically ephemeral.

I have this hypothesis that I’ve closed myself to others because I am overly sensitive to others’ feelings. “You’re an empath. You recognize it, but you don’t own it”. Anne pointed to a streak of light on the left side of my aura polaroid five months ago. It made sense. I knew I took on other people’s feelings. It certainly explained all the guilt I carry when I let someone down, and, inversely, the pride I feel when I meet or exceed implied responsibilities. I directly feel both the pain I inflict and the joy I induce. I’m so fearful of the negative, that often times I recoil from connecting at all. It’s safer inside my protective covering. Saturday night I was proud to consciously come out of that shell and be willing to be more vulnerable.

We stepped out of the bar/club for a breather. A friend lit up a cigarette, then a moment lit up my walls. A shirtless African American man in his late 20s stepped up to the three of us. He wore tattered jeans, curly black locks, large, black pupils and a perplexed smile. First he leaned toward the non-smoking friend. “Beautiful earings. Are they crystal?” he asked. She appreciated the sentiment and told him they were nothing fancy. “Your sign must be water. I can tell. You have a very interesting aura.” My attention was piqued. “I have this ability,” he continued. “I don’t understand it very well, but I’m starting to learn how to use it.” He turned to me, looking me square in the eyes. He leaned forward, as if his head weighed more than his body could handle. “And you’re earth. Your friends are strong, but you weaken them. You drain their energy. You take on their energy. You are an empath.” I stared at him with a wistful smirk. “I know,” I told him. “I just haven’t learned how to accept it, how to own it.” The gap in the man’s two front teeth appeared as he drew a wide smile. “When you know how, you will be able to turn it off and use it only when you need it. Until then, you are assuming the energy of those around you, which can be good, but not always.”

The connections I was making that weekend felt stronger and more satisfying than those I’d made in the past. I attributed that feeling to my new openness to others. I’d improved enough at lowering my walls to allow companions to penetrate. Upon recognizing this peaceful place, I wondered what it would feel like if my truest self could stand its ground at any moment, not solely with friends I trusted enough to let penetrate my defenses, but with mere acquaintances or even strangers. Would that happen once I learned to own and turn off my empathic side? Would my anxieties I had in everyday life subside? Would my mind be set to a consistent calm? What was the key to owning that I am an empath and knowing how to wield the abilities it entails when I need them? Or was I putting to much weight in my thoughts on my identity? Was I wrapping myself in the proverbial maroon yarn by over-thinking my path to enlightenment?  No clear answers came, only murk. Resonating the sermon to my life had concurrently delivered reassurance and uncertainty.