Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.
Speak to me and let our words build a shelter from the storm".
--from the 10,000 Maniacs song "Trouble Me"
Tonight I'm pondering this notion of sharing. How do we share with people we neither really understand nor fully trust? I think I'll play with this idea a bit, incoherent and imprecise as the ideas are for me.
I'm always intrigued by what story-telling animals we are. Lately, I watch television commercials which assume entire novella sections, all in sixty seconds. The twentysomething kids in Mitsubishi Lancers drive down the road singing a Barenaked Ladies song, and suddenly one has an entire plot in one's head, suggested cleverly by the ad-ministrators with a few looks, smiles and hair and clothes styles. We'e hooked into this little world, which we can have for just $14,000 and the cost of a CD.
I read journals in which elaborate tales unfold, told by people who all bring so many assumptions to what how they describe their perceptions. We are all so elaborately plotted. Although it's tempting to ascribe this richness of detail to the weblog process, I believe that this would be rather strong, somewhat like the way the old Soviet bloc states used to claim that the USSR was responsible for every invention ever to arise in the west. In fact, the webbing of lives with so much back story is so very human. One does not ride a train to get to a destination--one rides the Orient Express, and one compares it with grand old days, and one rides in a dining car for part of the trip, and one pays a monetary premium for this atmosphere. One drives an old-style VW Beetle and the odd placement of the gas tank and inadequate air-cooling system are not design idiosyncracies, but instead critical metaphors for the passing of the 1960s and the permanence of flawed but wonderful things. Every little vignette has such rich detail, filigreed like some odd baroque charm bracelet.
It's amazing what a relief it can be to unburden oneself to someone whom one trusts. It can even be a relief to unburden oneself to a stranger. I, for one, have more than once told my tales in real life to people with whom I was not friends, because they were there and I was there. I think so many of us feel as though we are endless tales untold--Scherezade, but without a thousand nights.
Although the stereotype is that we are lonely for a hug, I really think we are all mostly lonely for a sympathetic ear. I'm rather fond of the simplicity folks who preach getting in touch with the texture of just being in the moment. But I do not see this "simplicity" as a lessening of the sensations and experiences of living. I instead believe that one who can live more simply, without electronic(a)s and sheer speed/noise of daily life can key into that rich texture which underlies all human contact.
We all live by such elaborate myths. It's not a "religious" thing, but instead we must have this incredible backdrop to make our stories make sense, like some Hollywood sound stage that converts everything into a neat little movie. I notice that in life I meet a fair number of people who have a desperate desire to play "Sunset Boulevard" or one of those 40s soap opera type movies. We need the "storm and stress" of confrontation and friction. We play out our personal Hamlets, except that we're not in Denmark anymore, Toto. Perhaps we can consider the personal intrigue of conflict to be the poppies that help us sleep.
I think that so many times people long to be able to trust. I think that people also want to be able to share who they are with others. But it is so hard to break through the layers. Sometimes I think that it's not a matter of ever being able to really "break through". It's a matter of learning compassion and faith in people even if one never learns to fully trust. Sometimes we just have to share the people we have become with strangers who will never understand us. Worse, sometimes we are not really that hard to understand, and the problem is not that we "cannot be heard", but that we can be heard, and just don't speak. Sometimes when we do speak, we don't accept that we are heard, and perhaps understood, but that we are individual. Perhaps it is the truly individual people who have the hardest time being understood--about that I have no personal knowledge.
But amid all this string of generalities, a few things do seem reasonably clear to me. It's such a challenge--and yet a necessary challenge--to trust people who are not worthy of our trust, and yet to realize that our trust may well be betrayed. It's such a challenge--and yet a necessary challenge--to love people even when they have not been particularly lovable to us. I believe that love and trust can be accompanied by wariness. I am afraid that we never do and never should lose our caution, but if we live our lives by caution alone, nothing good ever happens. I am very wary of those who suggest that we place ourselves in the power of those who can do us wrong, as respectful as I am of the teaching of various faiths. But I cannot deny the importance of faith and love.
I don't believe that "this present age" is all that much worse than the times a generation or ten generations ago. The "contempt for the world" which informs so much of the "things are going to hell in a handbasket" one hears in the media is more a historical phenomenon than a real event. It seems to me that every time has good and evil sufficient to that time, and this era is no different. But the reality is, despite the abstract words, I, like most of us, do not live in a world in which I am called upon to exemplify "love, trust, hope, faith, good, evil". I live instead in a world in which I can do small goods or small errors in small ways, to the benefit or detriment of a few.
In doing the small things which are my life, I think it's important to help people, which I do not do as often as I should. I also think it's important to tell our stories to one another, and more importantly, to listen to the stories all around us. I do not believe that story-telling will give us some magic flash of insight. I just believe that listening is part of what we people do. I think that the reason solitary confinement is such a hellish punishment is that we are not made to have those stories shut out of our brain. We have to hear the stories, and trust the ideas, even if we believe that we have heard too many stories, and trust none of them. It's not that the words will steer us to the stars--it's that we cannot breathe properly without the words flowing in.