A small incident from many years ago reappeared in my memory bank this week right after a completely separate and seemingly disconnected event happened in my life. Yet, it somehow managed to turn on an internal switch I think I've been fumbling with for what seems like forever. It also turned my frown into giggle when I quickly saw the absurdist analogy. What stumps me is how such a small seemingly inconsequential blip in my life journey has obviously continued to float in the ether of my collective experiences just waiting to become part of a "teachable" moment.
25 years ago, I backpacked through parts of Europe with my friend Heather. Along the way, we hooked up with other travellers...sometimes just for the day.......sometimes a little longer. It depended on the connection and interests....it depended on which direction we were headed. Sometimes, the fates kept intersecting throughout the trip so that our new friends would pop up unexpectedly at another destination unbeknownst to anyone.
This happened consistently with Mike, a beautiful gregarious man from Minnesota whom we had originally met while he was fumbling at the front desk of a dumpy hostel in Athens trying to sort out accomodation. He had just managed to make his way through to Sarajevo for the Olympics and all on his own travelled south by train, crossing a border and dealing with all that entailed. But, for some reason, he couldn't get his act together to communicate his wishes. We watched him for a while....and then went to his rescue. He bought us a beer. We became fast friends.
(shoot! now I'm all wrapped up in ALL the stories of my travels with Mike and I just wanted to share one incident!! ggrr..... gotta stay on track here..... I'll write another piece about him another time because it is a wonderful story about the realness of serendipity...)
So........fasttrack.....we left Athens.....bizarrely reunited on the ferry to Italy.......did Rome in more than a day (AMAZING CITY.....) and ended up in Florence. He and I saw Pisa and Sienna together and loved it while Heather chose to stay in Florence to soak in the art. On the last day together (or so we thought because fates kicked in twice more on this backpack trip to pull us together) we were standing in the Florence train station with plans to go in different directions. At this point, there were two Brazillian travellers with us who spoke English and Portugese.
It was a bit chaotic that morning....notorious Italian strikes the day before had messed up the train schedules. So, Mike took it upon himself to approach a tiny old Italian woman who was standing behind a counter to ask about departure times. Without any hestitation, he asked her in English....not even considering the woman may not speak the language. The woman duffed him off with her hand telling him in Italian, "no english..." So, what did Mike do? He spoke LOUDER and SLOWER!
Hello!? A little smacking of entitlement stirring around in that manboy's body??
Frustration on both sides filled the air. It was classic. The old woman completely dismissed him as an idiot American traveller. And Mike who was a pleasant friendly guy was hurt in some weird way....he was misunderstood. I think it was an ego bite. We added to the bite by asking him YET AGAIN how he had managed to travel solo through Eastern Europe without someone knocking his block off? Why did he always assume everyone could speak and understand English??
One of the guys from Brazil took over. He approached the old woman behind the counter while we stood off to the side, far enough away that we couldn't hear the conversation. In seconds, he had the woman smiling and conversing. Strange.....he didn't speak Italian, and we assumed the woman didn't speak Portugese. And yet, he managed to return to us with the departure time information. Dumbfounded, I said to him....
"I didn't know you spoke Italian..."
"I don't," he replied, "I just changed the accent on my Portugese. There's enough similarities in the language that she was able to understand me."
I hadn't thought about this silly incident for years until I was driving home one day this week. I had just been confronted with the realization that my emotions were eating me up and driving others away. Not only that, because I hadn't been heard....or they hadn't been acknowledged therefore not affirmed as a human being (this is how it felt....I think its an EGO thing!!!), I did what I do best,.....I had been rachetting them up a notch or two. I had been consistently turning up the decibels. And when that didn't work, I sucked them in and simmered in the sludge of pissed offness. I know I have channelled them into my writing, but apart from that venue, they were either being supressed or spilling out scaring people.
Listen to me for God's sake! Can't you understand the language of my emotions???? This was the frustration I have been feeling in all parts of my life. If a person dismissed me because they were afraid of how intense my feelings were, I felt rejected. If a person tried to help me unravel the now pent up potent stew boiling away, I flooded them. No inbetween seemed to be available to me. No explanations or attempts to describe it using the same language helped me at all. It never occured to me that all I had to do is step back and perhaps change the accent. I seemed to have been stuck in a place of entitlement like Mike and expected others to get it.
There is absolutely no doubt that I am an emotionally driven person. I always have been....I feel it in myself and I feel it deeply in others. This is what helps me be a good counsellor. This is what I can POUR out as a facilitator in front of a classroom full of learners. I see how it helps me connect to others who are trying to scramble up out of a hole. The complicated feelings that make up a deep firey belly of passion has tremendous implications, both positive and negative. Cognitively I understand this....and intellectually I know many don't have this desire or capacity to pull from in themselves. Big feelings scare the shit out of most people. My fears are different.....spiders, snakes, flying....death, drowning, being rejected.....the whole God existance or not thing...... lots of fears here. But, I ain't afraid of emotions.
I have been told time and again I'm too sensitive....too dramatic....my feelings are right there on my sleeve, expressed through my vocal chords, in my writing. The most unnatural thing for me to do is to suppress. The absolute worst thing someone can do to me is ignore me....to remain silent simmering in their own feelings. When this is combined with a sense of something being unfair, well I have a tough time coping. I want to fix it. I want to express it. I want equality.
My father always said I was a "do it" person. I am that, and I thank him for this gene he passed onto me. On most days, this is a good thing. Stuff gets done. But, what I've learned this week (again, because I'm sure this lesson has hit me over the head a thousand times before ) is that sometimes my feelings can shut down others feelings because they swamp them. I have enough gumption to express it for a whole ball team if needed. But, sometimes that doesn't help them, nor does it help me. If and when I tackle life that way, I am more often than not shut out, shunned, not believed.
An example on a smaller scale, I could feel it in a team meeting the other day when I was describing a particularly meaningful interaction I had with a client. I could see that some were with me as I thought i was carefully choosing my words and actually keeping my feelings in line. But, there were others who shut down and dismissed me because they think I'm some Pollyanna airhead who doesn't see reality. Little do they know, not only do I see reality, I feel it in my bones too!
Feeling people are unpredictable people. Out of control feeling people (when affirmation or recognition doesn't happen for a long time.....or when life seems too damn chaotic and unreliable) are caustic. Rachetting it up a notch NEVER helps.
So, lesson learned.....everyone has to have the chance to express their own stuff, that many are not comfortable AND WILL NEVER BE comfortable with big emotions..... and that it would be best to learn how to speak Portugese with an Italian accent rather than talk louder. Interestingly, I've always had a thing for the passion of the romantics. BELLA!