That “More-Than-Me” Feeling

It happened one day on the bus coming home from work.  We’re barreling northbound on Lake Shore Drive, a pleasant spring day, a mass of eighty folks give or take, sitting, standing, or otherwise occupying the crowded articulated bus.

While not diagnosed as “borderline autistic,” I am intensely introverted; it feels like I’m imprisoned within myself every waking moment of my existence.  It doesn’t help that I don’t have a lot of folks to interact with, but even when I do, often I’m still overly self-conscious, unable to let my guard down enough for other individuals to register upon my awareness.

On this particular ride I was standing fairly close to the very back of the bus, for the longest time just looking west out the window, at the parks and the buildings rushing by.  I was bound up solely within my own awareness – had you been in my head, you wouldn’t have known that anyone was anywhere in any direction – that’s just how tunnel-like my awareness usually is.

For some reason, I recalled a conversation I had a long time ago with one of my grad school mentors, a very likeable, gregarious individual, an extrovert’s extrovert, with the capacity to relate to others not so gifted in the social graces.  I was preparing to teach my first class the following term, going over strategies of how to keep students’ attention for seventy-five minutes at a time twice a week.

I was irked that we spent any time talking about this.  It’s the student’s job to pay attention – entirely up to them, not me.  Whereupon my mentor offered this small but memorable nugget of truth:  “each of us is the star of our own show.”  This gave me a lifeline to get out of my own head; I knew that I was the star of my show – but it had never occurred to me that the exact same thing is going on again and again and again, with every single person on the planet:  each one of us living our lives, each one of us the lead actor on the stage of our own conscious awareness.

“Each of us is the star of our own show.”  I shifted my glance northward, looking up the long aisle of riders, and seeing – everyone, experienced all at once, each bound up in their own show, and now a seamless, single piece of cloth, an “all-at-once” that I never experienced before.  And it wasn’t a “we” or an “us” feeling – any sense of selves, singular, plural, or otherwise, just wasn’t part of the experience.

It was a “more-than-me” feeling.

Hope v. Wish v. Expectation

To hear it from my therapist’s point of view, I have a lifelong pattern of pursuing unavailable women.  This goes all the way back to, yes, you guessed it, my relationship with my mother.

I may have been seven or eight, when, for some long forgotten reason, I was standing at my mother’s side, probably pulling on her in some way, asking, begging, pleading with her to give me a moment of time, to listen to whatever cataclysmic need was about to overwhelm me.  The way I remember it, she didn’t even respond, or if she did, it was something along the lines of, “stop it, not now, quit bothering me, can’t you see I’m busy right now?”

It was at exactly that moment that I told myself, “okay, that’s it, it’s over, I get it.  We’re done, we’re through, we’re finished.  I’m going to shut up, sit on my feelings, and never, ever bother you with anything ever again.”  At the time I really believed she would sooner or later notice that I had gone quiet, that something must be terribly wrong that I wasn’t talking to her anymore, that she finally realized just how unimportant, lonely, invisible I was feeling, and that she would hug me, tell me how sorry she was, and that she would pay more attention to me.

That never happened.  If anything, things just got worse.  The only attention I ever got from her was for being quiet, not causing trouble, not making a nuisance of myself.  “I like you when you don’t bother me,” was the message I was hearing, and since crappy attention was better than no attention at all, I said, okay – I want you to love me, so I won’t bother you.

She’s been dead for over thirty years now, this all happened well over fifty years ago, and apparently I’m still not over it.  I’ve pretty much concluded that I’ll never be loved the way I want to be loved – which, of course, is different from concluding that I’m not worth anyone’s love.  I can try to reason my way through it, tell myself that all kinds of people love me in their own way, just not the way I want them to love me.  But I can’t talk myself out of feeling ignored, belittled, push aside, dismissed.

Where Are We Going?

Sometime in the late 90’s, maybe 1998, I was visiting my sister in North Carolina.  On Sunday, we went to Mass at her nearby church.  The congregation was filled with people of all ages, but I especially noticed one young mother trying to persuade her small daughter to keep her voice down during the goings on of the Mass.  The daughter seemed to me to be perhaps four or five years old, and hadn’t really yet grasped the experience of what it meant to be in a public, solemn place.  The child’s voice was not especially loud, conversational, bored, only a little whiny – but of course, in this place, readily noticeable and not exactly the sort of attention mom wanted.

This was the case from the beginning of the service until, after the Gospel but before the homily began, the young mother decided that it was time take her daughter out from the proceedings, perhaps to the “cry room” back in the church vestibule.  As they were making their way out of the pew, and I swear, I will remember this for as long as I live, the little girl looked up at her mother, and through a few choked-back tears, asked in a somewhat cautious voice, “Where are we going?”

My sister and I joked about the matter after Mass (she too had noticed the girl’s lament), about what mom might have whispered back to her as they removed themselves from the congregation.  Of course it was too cruel to suppose that tales of fire, brimstone, and eternal damnation were being told to such a small child – their desired crippling psychological effects are much more likely to take hold once the child reaches the age of reason.

But I digress.  I remember hearing the tone in her voice, not really one of fear, I thought, but something of curiosity, something of the unknown, something – of hope.  Or maybe these are just my own projections upon this particular event.  But I like to remember it as a moment ripe for philosophical reflection and exploration:

Where are we going?  Where are any of us going?  How do we get there?