I've given up being shy about my feelings - largely in the wake of writing the above mentioned brutally honest memoir - because I believe it to be a fallacy to pretend that we do not have such feelings, or to attach some kind of value to being the stereotypical 'strong and silent' type. Or should that more accurately be: 'strong and therefore silent about his feelings/emotions' type. Silliness, all of it. My dad was that kind of man: he was kind, generous and loving, and I miss him to this day but because he was so 'strong and silent', I never got to know him properly. For better or worse, I prefer people to understand what's going on behind my eyes - or to at least have the feeling that they have an inkling.
So: this feeling of mine...I think it's important because for me it represents change of a kind, and it represents something else that I hope is true. I may - just may - be getting a little wiser, and living more fully as a result.
It happened last night, while I was at work, and because I was at work.
My job (aside from writing my delicate, manicured little fingers down to the knuckles) involves looking after the welfare of people whom, shall we say, find themselves in a less than desirable position in relation to the justice system. Invariably, they come to this situation as a direct result of their behaviour, and almost invariably, their discomfort can be laid at their own feet through either stupidity, selfishness, thoughtlessness, or just being resident anywhere along the asshole spectrum. I'm there to make sure that - first and foremost - they stay alive while I'm there, and that their fundamental needs (right at the base of the pyramid formed by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs) are catered for. I'm not there to be anybody's friend, counselor or legal adviser. Although...
Having worked as a police officer for many years, my take on the world became hardened to the plight of the less-than-innocent, and it remains largely the same, although these days I am in particular far more aware of the effects and role of genuine mental illness upon criminals and criminal behaviour respectively. I once was the bluff (I said 'bluff', not 'buff' - calm down!), hard-nosed cop with a hugely cynical view of the world, but that approach has softened over the years, as life - especially life outside of the role of being a cop - has taught me many useful lessons about being a human being. People who knew me back then would say that I've gone soft (well, I've certainly put on a lot of squidgy padding since those days), that I've mellowed (which I would regard as a compliment), or that I've lost my 'edge'. I prefer to think that I've matured - and in the light of that, I also think it's worth sharing, because it's now about being my age as much as it's about anything else.
Last night, a young woman was in my care. Why she was in this situation is irrelevant, but let me assure you that there was very good reason for it. I'd been looking after her needs over the preceding three shifts at work, so we were, to a small extent, acquainted. At approximately 3 o'clock in the morning (yes I know, how stupid am I to be working at that time of the day?) this young woman began crying, alone. I spoke to her and found out why she was crying, but was unable to distract her or help her find a way to stop. The fact that I tried is itself something that former colleagues would find unfamiliar about me, but I've been that different person for some years now.
The woman continued crying for the next hour and a half, and there was nothing I could do about it and certainly nothing that I was mandated or enabled to provide in the way of comfort. It's by no means the first time that this has happened in the thirty months that I've been doing this particular job, and the fact that this time was different is why I noticed.
It's not the first time that I felt the way that I did, either. The sound of a human being sobbing uncontrollably is a difficult one to ignore. It bothers me more than it ever used to, when I was more closed off to my own feelings about life and when I had my feelings 'safely' (if not wisely) stored away for only occasional examination. The sound of a genuinely distraught person is, today, heart-wrenching for me to hear. Perhaps it's because I've also been there more than once during the last fifteen years, and I make an unconscious connection with my past sadness. Perhaps reflection upon my life experience so far has allowed me to realize that compassion is no kind of weakness, but is instead an incredibly strong force. Maybe I'm becoming that elusive yet wonderful thing: a little wiser.
Whatever the reason, it really hurt to hear that young person crying for so long and so hard. It hurt, and it made me wonder - because I'm a selfish bastard at heart - about the effect of that pain upon me. I could offer that girl only my compassion, some words of what I hoped was sage advice, and my silent wish that her life would begin to change for the better, both for her sake and the sake of everyone who loves her. It struck me - perhaps selfishly - that I have witnessed this kind of distress so many times over the years in a variety of roles - most extremely during the years I wore a police uniform - and I've simply absorbed it all. This may be the reason why I react more emotionally to a great many things these days - it's possible that long repressed emotional reactions are being released now that I feel so much more safe.
Getting older has its annoyances: for example being targeted by the lard-injecting pixies overnight while I sleep, the appalling afflictions of rampant nasal and aural hair growth, the corresponding and suspiciously coincidental disappearance of head hair (who knew that hair migrates - why wasn't I warned?) and the increasing difficulty in locating comfortable underwear (scrotal pinching is something that I really think the world could safely do without) to name but a few. However, I'm starting to wake up to the truth that getting older also comes with benefits - such as the awareness that so many of our social norms are nothing more than utter bullshit. Pretending that things don't affect me is another habit that I've been very glad to leave behind, and I'm slowly discovering a new kind of strength: the kind which empowers me to live more completely, and to experience each day more purely and more honestly.
Some things hurt more than they would have done before (and I don't mean my knees), but the pay-off is that, as a more fully-functional human, I get more joy out of life than I used to allow myself. Once, I used to have a protective shield around me which kept out the deeply affective things that would have otherwise interfered with me being 'strong'. Getting older, having nothing left to prove to anybody and beginning to genuinely believe in my learned lessons is now starting to open up the world. I probably wouldn't have got to this point without the experiences that the universe has shunted in my direction, or without the mistakes that I have made in relation to those experiences (and boy, have I made some doozies!), so regrets are few. The trick now is to notice the changes, remember them and - most importantly - use them to experience my world through a new set of filters.
What an exciting time I have ahead of me...and I'd better buy some shares in Kleenex.