The corner in front of my workplace is a strange kind of hangout. People buy and sell all manner of drugs, and it looks pretty sketchy. But not everyone there is buying or selling. Many people are just chatting with friends, having a smoke, or waiting for the bus. A couple of days ago, just as I arrived at work and was hopping off my bike, a woman careened through the intersection on a bike, flailing one arm and screaming wildly. I figured she was high, or drunk, or something, but of course I couldn't tell, and she didn't stick around*. The scream was chilling, and everyone looked to see what was going on. One guy on the corner, who appeared to be in the middle of a transaction of some sort, had a pit bull on a leash, and the dog went into a frenzy, straining at the leash, barking and growling. I like dogs, but I'm often nervous around them. With the woman screaming as she rode past on one side of me and the barking dog way too close on the other, I was terrified. I stood holding my bike, shaking all over. I had to keep walking to get to the door, but that meant walking past the dog, and I simply couldn't do it. After a moment, I saw a guy who comes into the library in the throng of people, so I managed to call out, "Hey man, can you stand between me and the dog so I can get to work?" The dog owner made the usual reassurances about the dog being friendly, but I'm never able to take any comfort in that just when I get dog-scared. Still, I quickly explained that I'm nervous around dogs, and he was OK with that. The other guy stood between me and the frenzied dog and started cracking jokes: "You think that monkey on your back is trouble? I got a pit bull on my leg? Now that's trouble!" We all laughed. The screaming woman was a block away by now, the dog was starting to calm down, and the joke broke enough tension that everyone went back to what they were doing. I stopped shaking enough to walk past the dog, and I thanked the guy and went to work.
I have this kind of big reaction to fear sometimes. I freeze and shake. Often I cry. It can happen when I break a dish, or drop anything that clangs or bangs. Loud sounds and sudden movements set me off. Usually, any kind of big fright stays with me for a long time. Once I'm shaken, it can take me days to get back to myself. But that morning, once I tucked my bike indoors are started work, I forgot all about it. I only noticed this a day later when I thought of telling my partner the funny line about the pit pull and I had to tell the whole story to make it make sense.
This is new to me. But it got me thinking. The other day, I was writing about rage. It's true. I've been feeling some penetrating anger, which is familiar and strange and unnerving, all at the same time. But here's the other side of it: these days, those things pass more quickly. I get sad, or frightened, or enraged, yes. But then I go on, genuinely not caught in those extreme moments. I've always been subject to big emotional ups and downs, though I've never been good at recognizing the nuance of feeling within them. I guess I've often been scared by the big fears and sadnesses, because they did seem to hang on tight once they showed up. Being sober and working on being more present has helped me let those feelings pass through. Of all the good things about being sober, this is probably the most amazing. No, I'm not always like this. Sometimes I still rail for days about small things and fret what looks like silly details, and I still sometimes want to hang onto happy moments as if there will never be another one in my life. But it's getting better. I'm more emotional, but I'm much less caught in it, and being less caught allows be to be more emotional, since no matter how good or bad it is, it's not going to last forever.
(*I want to add, I don't mean to sound insensitive to the plight of the woman who set off the dog in the first place. I don't know what happened to her, and I won't. I hope she's OK, but I doubt that she is. I work in a part of the city that has way too much poverty and addiction and trauma, though it also has a lot of warmth and community and humour. It's rough, but it's lovely there, too. Witnessing misery is hard for everyone. I'm neither sentimental about it nor immune to it. Sometimes the stories are so big that my own seems small, but I am living my life, not someone else's. When I can stay present, I am better able to help the people around me, and that's worth a lot to me. Trying to be aware of the world around me at work without getting dragged down by it is always a challenge, but that's a topic for a separate post, I think.)
Now I'm off to read a big chunk of text for class tomorrow, and if I skip the laundry for another day, I still have time for a sunny afternoon walk in the park. Thanks for reading. Peace and joy to you, and equanimity, too.