Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Friction and Irritation

I'm so tired of being cold. It is ever-present. Although my office has a space heater, half the day is spent out in the warehouse that has its dock door open to the Chicago winter for much of the day. So, despite the silk long underwear and wool socks, I'm cold all day, ride the El home to an apartment with giant heat-sucking windows and never really get warm until I have been in bed under the down comfroter for at least 10 minutes. By then, I'm usually asleep.

This cold makes me tense. It is an assault on my physical centeredness. I can't be at peace when my body is shivering. Plus, my mind can't be at peace when it realizes that I'm a lot warmer than lots and lots of people who have a lot more than cold to worry about because they're much further down on Maslow's Pyramid of Needs. But if I'm going to help those people, don't I have to accept my relative position and make the best of what I have? Because right now, it's hard for me to be nice to them. Part of my job has been to decide which community organizations get Christmas toys and which ones don't and the ones who don't haven't necessarily been all that nice to me about it. And it helps to know that if I hadn't taken on this task, no one would have gotten toys. And it helps to remember that I shouldn't expect them to be nice because when you don't have anything, you clutch at any possibilities. And it helps to know that I've allowed myself to be a punching bag in the past (without lasting harm) to hurting urban parents who really didn't know what else to do with their kids but blame their teachers.

But I've only been in town for a little over a month and I'm cold and I'm not happy. So, tonight is a weepy night. I can't really catch my breath. But, aside from the tears and sense of being a little lost, I'm not unhappy, either. In fact, I can be pushed up and over to happy quite quickly (especially if I'm warm) and easily: those gears are well-oiled. But my default state of mind/body/emotion is neutral and even a little irritated. Which is, I guess, pretty appropriate. Life on the island proceeded without much friction. My sense weren't assaulted to the same degree as they are here. There wasn't traffic or unmitigated cold or walking through slush or garbage or talking public transportation out my window or hordes of ugly buildings and railings. Ocean, mountains, trees. There weren't so many people. I guess that the number I actually interact with is not much larger, but the peripheral people push in on all sides. On Sunday, I bumped a Hispanic teenaged boy in the crosswalk with my car because I was zoned out while driving and he was in the blind spot created by dried, dirty slush at the edges of my windshield where the wipers don't go. I'm horrified with myself over that. Today, I asked a woman if I could sit down next to her on the El and I didn't realize until she moved her shopping bag only a little that she had the sheen of grime on her clothing that only the homeless acquire and as I sat I recognized the odor as well. This is not an experience that I would have to process on the island. I've thought about this woman all day now: remembering the defensive hesitation in her face when I spoke to her, debating what the kindest thing to do for her would have been (what if my speaking to her as if she were a normal person was the nicest thing anyone has done for her all day? and it was a mistake!), the fact that the only tell-tale sign she was homeless was the dirt and smell, other than that, she was young and pulled-together.

There is more friction and pressure on my existence here. I got soft on the island. So, I'm having trouble finding the peace and centered feeligns that I knew there. I don't want to build callouses. I want happiness to well up rather than to be something that I must achieve.

I know that this most likely a normal stage of transition for me. Culture shock hits me hard when I travel; why should moving from one culture to another be any different? I'm not going to do this, but I bet if you looked at entries from one to two months into living on the island (October and November 2004), my emotions look pretty similar. Like knowing that they're mean to me because they have less to fall back on when encountering disappointment makes me feel better at least logically, knwoing that this is my pattern makes the emotions a little less consuming because I know there is a way out and the sign over that tunnel is labeled, "Time."

That doesn't make me any warmer, though.


Jhena said...

It's too cold here also. I always have this feeling that those electricians (or whoever they are taking care of the air conditioning)think that we're penguins working here, not people.

Anonymous said...

As I read this it seems that God is allowing you to be shaped by these experiences and I am wondering if the shaping is for the right now of your life or is it for another part of the journey.