I was pretty down. The previous two months had been about as stressful as any period I had ever experienced. One thing had piled in on top of another, continuously. None of them had been end-of-days horrendous but I had no time to relax between them. Even sitting in the mall was stressful, as I'm a recovering shy person who is still stressed out to some degree by the mere presence of people. And that day in the mall they were packed around me, a milling wall of bodies. Each one felt like a bar in a jail cell.
So I began looking at my feet. And then something happened I've never experienced before: I began to sink, to slowly move down through the floor into the ground. I panicked and looked around--I was still the same size and height as before. And the feeling was gone. I assumed it must have been depression imposing itself very literally on my mind. Like in a dream. That seemed a bit humourous. I sat there. I hadn't realized I was that depressed. I tried to take my mind off things. Think about myself. My body. Reality. Then I thought of the word resilience. I had read about resilience, that old people who have that mental habit, or outlook, do better than others as their bodies decline. Maybe I could dig myself out of this depression somehow. It would be good practice at the very least. So I looked up again at the swarm of people. How can I see a silver lining here? What could lead me to the opposite of the negative I'm feeling?
And I had a sudden, wonderful inspiration!
To appreciate it properly, you need to know the background from which it emerged. I grew up in a small, isolated farm family. The four of us hardly communicated at all, and we had no visitors. I did have a neighbor friend but I was shy with him and very shy with everyone else. In school and then at college in the city not only did I have to deal with more people, all from an emotional distance, but I was an outsider to the urban structure itself. Hierarchies, for instance, other than that between parents and children, do not exist in the country. Farmers do only what is necessary and practical. No one tells them what to do. But in the city I began to see hierarchies everywhere. And hierarchies within hierarchies. I saw city people spending their entire lives trying to climb to the top where they could impose themselves on those on the bottom. As an outsider, it was impossible to take part in this kind of existence with any degree of comfort. Just for starters, I didn't know the language, and even if I managed to learn it I would feel like a fake using it, and more and more I resented being expected to. I insisted on equality and the less of it I found the more disgruntled I became. Then, in an attempt simply to rid myself of my shyness, I became a social organizer, creating London Open Mic. And, irony of ironies, I found that I had created what I most disliked, another hierarchy. This one had me at the top! It was difficult to deal with emotionally, and after four seasons I still feel very conflicted. (Although the organizing did wonders for my shyness.) Also, to make the event as inclusive as possible, I brought in featured poets, along with their bios, interviews, Q&As, the whole shebang. I don't know, and don't ask, how the audience sees this setup; whether it's resented or accepted or enjoyed. And I try not to think about it myself.
Anyway, there I was in the mall looking for a way out from under my stress and depression. So I glanced up at the multitude of faces again, faces of people shopping for Christmas presents. And I had it! This was not a hierarchy of people; it was a horizontal group. A group of shoppers spread out through the mall. I suddenly realized that most people don't see themselves as members of hierarchies, but simply as members of groups! Their main impulse is to have friends, families, workmates, people they can say hello to and feel comfortable with, and be polite to. I thought that yes, it's true, they are members of hierarchies, but really they don't care who's above them or below them. Most of the time they hardly notice. It's those around them who hold the emotional place in their lives.
I glanced up at that crowd again. In that instant, all the faces seemed brighter. Why? Till that glance, I must have been seeing the shaded sides of their faces, but now the lit sides. So I looked up again, this time more carefully. And no. In the food court there are neither shaded nor lit sides. The lighting comes uniformly from above, all sides lit evenly. Neither bright nor dark. So both my impressions had been entirely due to my mind's own outlook. Or inlook. What I felt was what I saw. Just by imagining that most of the people around me wanted only to be members of a group, their faces had brightened.
On the bus on the way home I told Linda about my discovery, and saw evidence for it in the people riding with us. I was very excited. I tried to see everything more clearly than I had before, through this new lens instead of my outsider's eye. As a result I've become more at ease living inside the world of hierarchies, letting them fulfilling their functions in civilization, of holding it together, moving it forward.
My own creation works as a hierarchy as well, but really we're a bunch of individuals who enjoy each others' company as best we can.
Jaime R Brenes Reyes, Judy Hicken, Lynn Davis Bertie and 15 others like this.
Jenny Getsinger Thanks, Stan, you articulate unspoken feelings for a lot of people. Sometimes, because I'm an introvert, too, when I've withdrawn for a break, and the cat comes to curl up, I'm reminded that we are mammals in a den and need to hole up for a while together.
Unlike · Reply · 3 · December 24, 2015 at 11:54am
Donald Brackett Me too. Us too.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · December 24, 2015 at 12:07pm
Robert Gregory Seaton Great insights. You're absolutely right that most of the time people are not relating based on hierarchies, but rather based on stories, laughter, needs... I'd also say that in my experience, being the organizer of something like the open mike, while...See More
Unlike · Reply · 2 · December 24, 2015 at 1:49pm
Stan Burfield Yes, that's exactly it, Robert. Well said. I do enjoy seeing others enjoying the events, listening to the poetry, but especially I enjoy seeing them enjoying socializing with each other. Which I should have been doing all my life and so admired in others. Now I can take part. That's my reward.
Like · Reply · 1 · December 26, 2015 at 11:56am
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Cambridge Keenan Thank you Stan
Unlike · Reply · 2 · December 24, 2015 at 3:47pm
Linda Eva Williams Very good, Stan. heart emoticon
Unlike · Reply · 2 · December 24, 2015 at 5:08pm
Meredith Moeckel Stan, I thank you for sharing some of your deepest inner thoughts & philosophies. I haven't seen any of your short stories, for lack of better terms, for awhile....and I've missed them! Wishing you and Linda all the best in this holiday season. angel emoticon
Like · Reply · December 24, 2015 at 8:07pm
Stan Burfield I'm enjoying writing these prose pieces so they'll keep coming.
Like · Reply · 1 · December 26, 2015 at 11:58am
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Lynn Davis Bertie Interesting way of getting a different perspective.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · December 25, 2015 at 2:59pm